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Kolkata High Court Allows Petition on Behalf of Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta To Be Refiled

02/21/2013

Photograph of Professor Mahapatra and photograph of Mr. Sengupta courtesy of Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta

On February 7th the Kolkata High Court vindicated the recommendations of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) concerning the police mistreatment of Ambikesh Mahapatra, an Indian chemistry professor, and his neighbor, retired engineer Subrata Sengupta – but not in the criminal case against Ambikesh and Subrata.   The Kolkata High Court vindicated the WBHRC’s opinion by allowing former Kolkata mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, over the objections of the government attorneys, to file a new public interest litigation (PIL) against the officers who arrested Ambikesh and Subrata.

Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta were roughed up by a mob after the professor emailed an innocuous cartoon that mildly pokes fun of Kolkata Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.  The police added insult to injury by arresting not the assailants, but the victims – the professor and his neighbor.  Calling what transpired a “case of police excess and highhandedness,” the WBHRC recommended that the two men each be compensated Rs. 50,000 (approximately $900) and that the two police officers be reprimanded. 

Mr. Bhattacharyya had filed a PIL against the officers before the WBHRC’s opinion was handed down.  That PIL was withdrawn after the WBHRC’s opinion appeared to address the mistreatment.  But, since the Kolkata government failed to implement any of the recommendations of the WBHRC’s opinion, Mr. Bhattacharyya sought a new PIL. 

The objections to the new PIL by the governments’ attorneys were bluntly rejected by the Kolkata High Court.  Chief Justice Mishra in particular had little patience for the government’s argument that the state is not bound by WBHRC’s opinions.  The Chief Justice asked the state, “If the recommendations are not to be obeyed by the state government, what is the Commission there for?”  The justice continued, “This is not acceptable.  In other states, the government treats the human rights commission’s recommendations with respect.  Can you cite another instance where a man has had to move the high court because the state government has refused to obey the Commission’s recommendations?”  The government lawyer could not cite such an instance. 

When reached for comment, Professor Mahapatra told CRNI that the justices’ tough questioning of the government attorneys went straight to the heart of the matter.  He also noted that the first justice to demand answers about this mistreatment by public servants was WBHRC Chairman Ashok Kumar Ganguly, a Banerjee appointee.

To read more about this development, click on the February 8th article titled No action?  Why commission?  State Objects but court allows petition on joke arrest from Tapas Ghosh of The Telegraph, the February 8th Firstpost article titled Mamata's whipping boys: Cops, cartoonists, commissions and ex-CMs, and, the February 9th article by Shiv Sahay Singh in The HIndu titled HIgh Court has vindicated my stand, says Jadavpur University professor.  To read more about the charges that Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta are still faced with, click on our previous news alert titled In West Bengal, India, Three of Four Charges Dropped Against Ambikesh Mahapatra and Subrata Sengupta.