Justice Chanda recuses himself, but Mamata fined Rs 5 lakh by court
Kolkata, July 7, 2021
Though Calcutta High Court Justice Kausik Chanda recused himself from hearing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's plea challenging the Assembly election verdict in Nandigram, the court fined her Rs 5 lakh for the way in which she sought the judge's recusal.
Justice Chanda said that the settled practice was to approach the concerned judge with an application seeking recusal. However, Mamata Banerjee approached the Acting Chief Justice on the administrative side. When the case was first put up before the bench on June 18, no request for recusal was made, Justice Chanda noted.
"I am unable to convince myself that there is a conflict of interest," Chanda said on Wednesday. "The applicant has taken too sombre a view of (the) integrity of a judge. I have no personal inclination to hear out the petitioner's case. I have no hesitation in taking up this case either. It is my constitutional duty to hear out a case assigned to me by the chief justice," he added.
"I continuously asked (Mr.) Singhvi regarding suppression of such information. He replied that it wouldn't have looked nice to allege apprehension of bias in absence of a formal application. This apparently attractive submission of Mr. Singhvi doesn't gel with the series of incidents that followed immediately after court proceedings were completed," Justice Chanda observed.
"If a person appears for a political party, it is uncommon but he lays aside his bias while hearing a case. In this case, pecuniary interest does not arise," said Chanda.
"Dramatists were ready to launch a well-rehearsed drama outside the Court. Chief National Spokesperson and leader of Petitioner's party were ready with two photos of mine, attending a programme of BJP legal cell in 2016," he further said.
"It is preposterous to suggest that a judge who has an association with a political party for a case. A judge cannot be seen to be biased because of the litigant's view," the judge said.
"A judge also has voting rights and political leanings like any other citizen. However, previous associations of a judge could not be considered as apprehension of bias as it would lead to 'bench hunting'," he added.
"The aforesaid chronology of events that took place on June 18 clearly suggest that a deliberate and conscious attempt was made to influence my decision, before the recusal application was placed before me. Such calculative, psychological and offensive attempts to seek recusal need to be firmly repulsed and a cost of Rs 5 lakh is imposed upon Petitioner," Justice Chanda said in the order.
The West Bengal Chief Minister had lost the Nandigram Assembly seat to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari, her former close aide, who had joined the saffron party before the elections.
On June 17, Banerjee had moved the Calcutta High Court, challenging the Nandigram election result.
After Chanda was rostered to hear the petition, Banerjee wrote to Calcutta High Court Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal requesting him to reassign the petition. The letter stated that Justice Chanda was an active member of the BJP before he became a judge, and this could lead to bias.
There was confusion surrounding the results of the seat on the day of the counting on May 2. Initially around 4.30 p.m. it was reported that Banerjee had won the seat by a margin of 1,200 votes though the counting of votes was under progress. Later, the Election Commission declared that Adhikari had defeated Banerjee by a margin of 1,956 votes.
Banerjee had then alleged "looting and cheating" in the counting process. The Trinamool Congress had sought a recount of votes -- a request the Election Commission denied. Banerjee had said that she will move the court against the result.