Mamata to skip state rights commission event

Calcutta, Dec. 7: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to skip a programme organised by the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) on International Human Rights Day on December 10.

A senior official cited the chief minister's busy schedule for her decision to skip the programme at the Sesquicentenary Building of Calcutta High Court, where she was supposed to deliver the presidential address. But he did not specify if the chief minister had any programmes other than regular work on Monday.

The decision comes at a time attention has been refocused on the rights' commission recommendation in August to act against police officers who harassed Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra for emailing a joke.

The commission, headed by a former Supreme Court judge handpicked by the new government, had also proposed compensation for the professor and a neighbour and withdrawal of the case against them.

The Bengal government has not acted on the recommendations till now, prompting Justice Markandey Katju, the Press Council chairman, to write a scathing letter meant for the chief minister.

Last week, Mahapatra sent an appeal to the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), appealing to take "needful and necessary steps so that human rights, freedom of speech and democratic ethos" can be protected now and in the future.

A senior official at Writers' Buildings said the chief minister's office (CMO) had already informed the WBHRC that the chief minister would not be able to attend the programme.

Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly, the chairman of the WBHRC, said: "We have invited Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, Calcutta High Court acting Chief Justice Pratap Kumar Roy, chief minister Mamata Banerjee and state law minister Chandrima Bhattacharya to the programme."

Asked if the chief minister would attend the programme, Justice Ganguly said: "I do not know. We have invited her, that much I can say."

Later, a senior commission official told The Telegraph: "The CMO has already told us that the chief minister will not be able to attend the programme because of some other engagements."

A CMO official said: "We don't know why the chief minister will not be able to attend the programme. Following instructions, we have informed the WBHRC that she will be busy with her pre-arranged schedule and it won't be possible for her to accommodate the programme right now."

Bengal police have postponed a debate competition for its officers slated to be organised in association with the NHRC and the WBHRC without citing any reason.

On Wednesday, Bengal police had issued a notification stating that the force would organise the state-level competition on December 10. The subject of the debate was "Human Rights" and it was supposed to be held in the conference room of Araksha Bhavan in Salt Lake.

But yesterday, the police postponed the programme by issuing another notification, saying the next date would be announced later.

A senior Writers' official said: "These two incidents prove that the state government wants to maintain a distance with the WBHRC."

Asked about the chief minister's decision, a minister said: "Why don't you believe that she has some other assignments on that day? Last year too, she could not attend the programme because of her busy schedule."