Calcutta HC takes cognizance of NHRC report on post-poll violence, orders probe
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government suffered a setback on Friday when the Calcutta High Court took cognizance of the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) report on post-poll violence in Bengal which mentioned allegations of murder, rape and arson. HT has learnt.
The court gave more time to the seven-member panel of the NHRC and asked it to visit the districts and meet more complainants and file the final report on July 13.
The five-Judge bench of acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justices IP Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar directed the state police to record statements based on the recommendations of the NHRC and asked the state government to provide medical treatment and ration to the affected families, said Priyanka Tibrewal, one of the lawyers for the petitioners and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.
The bench ordered a fresh autopsy of the body of BJP supporter Abhijit Sarkar who was allegedly strangled to death by a mob in the Narkeldanga area of Kolkata on May 2, the day the assembly poll results were declared. The body is kept in a city morgue.
The written order said,"Surprising fact available from the report is that state authorities, had been claiming throughout, that there were no complaints received by them but when the opportunity was given to the complainants to file complaints with the State Legal Services Authority or the NHRC, the authorities were flooded with complaints. People are afraid to even disclose their identity to apprehending threat to their life and property."
The hearing was held virtually.
The court said that the autopsy has to be done at the army's Command Hospital in Alipore. "The report shall specifically mention about the condition of the body as to whether it was properly preserved in the hospital where it was," said the order.
During the hearing, advocate general Kishore Datta told the bench that the Supreme Court has taken cognizance of Abhijit Sarkar’s killing. The Bench said it was only ordering a second autopsy without giving any direction. The victim’s brother, Biswajit Sarkar, is among the petitioners who moved the Supreme Court in May seeking the formation of a special investigation team for probing allegations of violence by members of Trinamool Congress (TMC).
The Bench on Friday also issued a show-cause to Rashid Munir Khan, the deputy commissioner of police of the south suburban division of Kolkata Police for failing to give protection to the NHRC team led by Atif Rasheed, vice-chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities on June 29. Rasheed, a member of the team constituted by the NHRC to look into complaints of post-poll violence, alleged that he was attacked while visiting the Jadavpur area. The alleged incident took place at Dompara where the crematorium and morgue workers live as a community.
The bench asked why the police should not be held guilty of contempt of court as it was directed to provide protection to the NHRC teams.
The bench said the government can submit its submission after the NHRC files its final report on July 13.
Leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Suvendu Adhikari of the BJP, welcomed it saying the state government made false statements in its affidavits filed at the Supreme Court. “The government said all the violence took place when the Election Commission was in control of the administration and nothing happened after the new government took charge. It was a lie,” said Adhikari.
“The government will follow the court’s order. But our contention is that Mamata Banerjee controlled the situation after she was sworn in. The violence took place before that. Also, the allegation about the attack on the NHRC team at Jadavpur is not correct,” said TMC Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy.
The BJP staged an agitation at the state assembly on Friday afternoon, stopping governor Jagdeep Dhankhar from reading out his speech at the beginning of the budget session. Dhankhar had to stop his speech after four minutes and leave the assembly house.
“We staged the agitation because the speech prepared by the government did not mention post-poll violence although it is now a national issue,” said Adhikari.
The NHRC’s preliminary report was placed on record on June 30. It was filed in a sealed envelope. The court refused to disclose the contents although lawyers for the petitioners prayed for it.
NHRC officials did not talk to the media but officials aware of the developments said the preliminary report said the seven members in the panel met more than 100 families and received complaints about 41 murders and 13 rapes. The preliminary report did not mention the role of the local police which is also being probed by the NHRC team. This will be mentioned in the final report, officials said.
The NHRC panel includes a member of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and a member of the West Bengal State Legal Services Authority.
Divided into two groups, the members have visited north and south Bengal districts. A camp was also held in the eastern outskirts of Kolkata on Monday where many people came to give their statements.
On June 21, the Calcutta HC’s five-judge bench dismissed a petition by the West Bengal government seeking recall of the June 18 order that asked the NHRC to probe allegations of human rights violation during alleged violence after the recent assembly polls. The High Court asked the NHRC to submit its report by June 30.
Dismissing the state’s plea for recall, Justice Bindal remarked on June 21 that there are allegations that police are not taking action while more complaints are being filed. He observed that the conduct of the state does not inspire the confidence of the court.
Justice Harish Tandon, another judge on the bench, said while 541 complaints had been received by the NHRC, not a single one was received by the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. More than 3400 complaints were received till June 21, Tibrewal told the court.
The NHRC panel is led by Rajiv Jain, the former Intelligence Bureau chief who assumed charge as an NHRC member on June 2. The other members are National Commission for Women member Rajulben L Desai, NHRC’s (director) investigation Santosh Mehra and DIG (investigation) Manzil Saini, West Bengal Human Rights Commission registrar Pradip Kumar Panja and West Bengal State Legal Services Authority member secretary Raju Mukherjee.
On Tuesday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said during the press conference that the BJP was making up the allegations. “One or two cases may be genuine but the rest are made up by the BJP. These are all fake allegations,” she said.