Updated: July 8, 2021 2:41:59 am
JUSTICE KAUSIK Chanda Wednesday recused from hearing the petition filed in the Calcutta High Court by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee challenging the Assembly poll result in Nandigram, but imposed a cost of Rs 5 lakh on her for “calculated psychological offensives and vilification adopted to seek recusal”.
On June 24, the single-judge Bench of Justice Chanda had reserved its order on Banerjee’s plea seeking his recusal and pointing to the “likelihood of bias” on the part of the judge given his association with the BJP during his time as a lawyer.
In his order, Justice Chanda said he was recusing from the case to prevent “trouble-mongers” from creating “newer controversies”.
“It is preposterous to suggest that a Judge having a past association with a political party as a lawyer should not receive a case involving the said political party or any of its members. The past association of a Judge with a political party by itself cannot form apprehension of bias. This proposition, if allowed to be accepted, would be destructive to the long-lived and deep-rooted notion of neutrality associated with the justice delivery system and lead to the unfair practice of Bench hunting to resist a fair adjudication by an unscrupulous litigant,” Justice Chanda wrote in the order.
The order stated that the cost imposed on the petitioner should be deposited with the Bar Council of West Bengal within two weeks and the amount used for families of advocates who had died of Covid.
On May 2, Banerjee was defeated by BJP rival Suvendu Adhikari, who went on to become Leader of Opposition, by 1,956 votes in Nandigram. On May 21, she filed a petition with the High Court for re-evaluating the result. On June 16, Banerjee, through her advocate, wrote to Chief Justice (Acting) of Calcutta High Court Rajesh Bindal to reassign the case to another bench.
In his order Wednesday, Justice Chanda said: “I have no personal inclination to hear out the case of the petitioner. I had no hesitation in taking up the case, either. It is my Constitutional obligation and duty to hear out a case assigned to me by the Hon’ble Chief Justice neutrally and dispassionately. I have, however, decided to recuse myself from this case for a different reason.”
The order stated: “Since the two persons involved in this case belong to the highest echelon of State politics, in the name of saving the judiciary, some opportunists have already emerged. These trouble-mongers will try to keep the controversy alive and create newer controversies.”
It stated: “The trial of the case before this Bench will be a tool to aggrandise themselves. It would be contrary to the interest of justice if such unwarranted squabble continues along with the trial of the case, and such attempts should be thwarted at the threshold. The hearing of the case should proceed seamlessly, like any other litigation before this Court.”
During the hearing on June 24, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, counsel for Banerjee, had provided reasons for the petitioner’s apprehension of bias, and submitted that Justice Chanda has been “closely associated with BJP”, had been the head of the legal cell of the party, and had appeared for the BJP as a lawyer in various cases.
On Wednesday, Justice Chanda said that when the election petition was first taken up for hearing on June 18, “quite surprisingly, nothing regarding recusal was revealed. No clue was given to me as to the fact that the petitioner had already approached the Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice for reassignment of the petition”.
He said: “In the course of hearing of the case, I repeatedly asked Mr Singhvi as to the reason for such suppression on the first date of hearing… He submitted that it would not have looked nice to allege apprehension of bias on the said date without an affidavit being filed… This apparently attractive submission of Mr Singhvi really does not jibe with the series of incidents that immediately followed after the Court proceeding was complete.”
On June 18, the TMC tweeted two photographs from the past of Justice Chanda sharing a stage with West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh. Party MP Derek O’Brien also tweeted a list of “matters where Justice Kaushik Chanda has appeared for the BJP before the Calcutta High Court” — he listed 10 cases, from 2012-2014.
On June 24, Justice Chanda had agreed that he had represented the BJP in cases before the High Court, but said that he was never the head of the party’s legal cell.
In his order Wednesday, he wrote: “The script was already prepared; the dramatis personae were ready to launch a well-rehearsed drama outside the Court…On the own showing of the petitioner in the recusal application, it appears that the chief national spokesperson and leader of the petitioner’s party in the Rajya Sabha was ready by that time with two photographs of mine attending a programme of BJP legal cell in the year 2016.”
The order stated: “Another member of the Parliament of the said party also by that time, apparently, was ready with a purported list of cases where I had appeared for the Bharatiya Janata Party as a lawyer… Some other State leaders of the said party came up before the media and demanded recusal of this Bench from the case.”
Referring to the “aforesaid chronology of the events that took place on June 18”, Justice Chanda said that it “clearly suggests that a deliberate and conscious attempt was made to influence my decision before the recusal application was placed before me for judicial consideration on June 24… The calculated psychological offensives and vilification adopted to seek recusal need to be firmly repulsed, and a cost of Rs 5 lakh is imposed upon the petitioner”.
He said: “If a lawyer appears in several cases for a political party, his association with the legal cell of the party or with its leaders is natural… Like any other citizen of the country, a Judge also exercises his voting rights in favour of a political party, but he lays aside his individual predilection while deciding a case.”
Justice Chanda said that “when a lawyer moves from Bar to Bench, he carries with him the same sense of detachment already in-built in him”. In an apparent reference to Singhvi and S N Mookherjee, the judge said: “Ironically, two leading counsel engaged in the case have well known political identities adverse to the petitioner’s party.”
Justice Chanda had earlier served as Additional Solicitor General of India from April 2015 to September 2019, and was elevated to the High Court as an Additional Judge on October 1, 2019.
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