The Calcutta High Court on Thursday observed that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has not violated an earlier order of the Court for constitution of a three member committee to look into the complaints of displaced post-poll violence victims in West Bengal by constituting a team of 11 officers to assist in ministerial work.
The Court had earlier constituted a three member committee to conduct an enquiry into the allegation that over 303 victims have been displaced due to the post-poll violence in West Bengal that had allegedly taken place post the declaration of the West Bengal assembly elections in May 2021. The three member committee constituted comprises of the following persons- (i) a member/ nominee of the National Human Rights Commission; (ii) a member/ nominee of State Human Rights Commission; and (iii) Member Secretary, State Legal Services Authority.
Furthermore, the Court vide order dated August 19, 2021 had handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) the investigation of cases related to murder, rape and crime against women whereas a Special Investigation Team (SIT) had been constituted to investigate other criminal cases related to post-poll violence.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj on the last date of hearing had sought response from the NHRC on a plea moved by the State government against the constitution of a team of 11 members by the NHRC which is contrary to the Court's order.
During the proceedings, Advocate General S.N Mookherjee submitted that although the Court had earlier constituted a three member Committee to consider the cases of the persons allegedly displaced during the elections and post poll violence but the NHRC had sent a communication dated May 10, 2022, to the Chief Secretary of the State stipulating the formation of a team of 11 members. He further argued that the team constituted by the NHRC consists of high ranking officials and thus it cannot be said that the team is set to engage only in ministerial work. It was also contended that if the NHRC required supporting staff, it could have approached the Court for an appropriate order.
On the contrary, the counsel appearing for the 3 member committee constituted by the Court submitted that the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) does not have sufficient manpower and considering the large number of complaints which have already been received, the supporting staff consisting of 11 officers of the NHRC is necessary. He further contended that in order to avoid any conflict, the team of independent staff has been tasked with only aiding the working of the committee and nothing beyond its mandate.
Echoing similar submissions, the counsel for the petitioner argued that by filing the instant plea, the State government is trying to make out a ground for ultimately challenging the report of the Committee.
Pursuant to the submissions, the Court noted that on April 20, 2022, the WBHRC had deposed before the Court that it does not have sufficient manpower and was short of funds. Pursuant to the perusal of the affidavit-in-opposition of the NHRC, it was further noted that the Court constituted committee had received nearly 400 complaints so far and is expected to receive more and thus it would be impossible for the committee to deal with these complaints without a supporting staff.
"The affidavit in opposition clearly states that supporting staff of 11 officials from NHRC is for ministerial purpose and that the Committee has not delegated its essential function to inquiry to the supporting staff. The supporting staff is only for the purpose of ministerial job so as to ensure that there is no repetition of complaints, taking note of the complaints received from the complainants, verifying documents such as identity cards etc., taking photographs of damaged houses and also videography of the statement made by the complainants and to work as translator etc", the Court noted further.
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the State government's plea by observing,
"In the above circumstances, we do not find that the Committee is acting beyond the order of this Court. Since, an apprehension has been expressed by the State, therefore, we make it clear that though the Committee can taken the assistance of the supporting staff for ministerial work but the essential work of inquiry into the right of the displaced persons for rehabilitation etc. will not be delegated by the Committee constituted by this Court in other person or any group of persons."
Case Title: Priyanka Tibrewal v. State of West Bengal and Ors
Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 190