The Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Friday criticised Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay after he observed that he might have to ask the Election Commission of India (ECI) to cancel the recognition of the Mamata Banerjee-led outfit as a political party and withdraw its logo.
During a hearing on the School Service Commission (SSC) recruitment case on Friday, Justice Gangopadhyay is learnt to have said, “No one has the right to do anything with the Constitution of India. I might have to ask the ECI to cancel the recognition of Trinamool Congress as a political party and withdraw its party logo.”
The judge’s observation came after state education secretary Manish Jain informed the court that a decision to create additional teachers’ posts to accommodate those allegedly given appointments illegally was taken by the state cabinet on the order of state education minister Bratya Basu.
The education secretary further said that he was not present at the cabinet meeting when the decision was taken. He informed the court that the education minister on giving instructions on the creation of additional posts asked for taking legal advice.
Following this, Justice Gangopadhyay questioned how the state Cabinet could take such a decision to accommodate ineligible candidates appointed illegally.
Justice Gangopadhyay is learnt to have observed, “The state cabinet will have to announce that they are not backing the illegal appointments and also withdraw the notification on May 19 for the creation of additional posts of teachers. Else, I will take such a decision that is unprecedented in the country. I feel that either democracy is not in the right hands or it has not flourished properly. If necessary, I will make the entire state cabinet a party in the matter and summon all of its members. If necessary, I will issue a show-cause notice to all of them.”
State education minister Bratya Basu is learnt to have said that he asked the state education secretary to take legal opinion following the Cabinet decision. “I have nothing to say right now. The appropriate authority will say on everything,” he has said.
TMC MP and lawyer Kalyan Bandopadhyay, who was present in the court, said the judge had no moral authority to comment on the party as it was not an issue that the hearing was on. “Any verbal comment made by a judge has no standing. If it was a judicial decision or an order, then it would have made sense. Today he should have shown courage and given a written order on his observation. Then we would have taken it forward accordingly. A judge has wide power to run a court but that power is not unbridled. The observation made by the judge today is not part of the case. If that is the case then no judge has the moral authority to make such comments. The judge needs to be disciplined and bound by law.”
He further said, “If this was a hearing based on a writ petition challenging the recognition of TMC as a political party, then this would have made sense. But when it is not, then these observations are uncalled for.”
Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who appeared on behalf of petitioners (SSC candidates), said, “The TMC is moving from one court to another to challenge several court orders. But they are not getting any relief. The TMC has to accept that corruption took place in the recruitment process. Now, the matters like corruption and parliamentary democracy are seen like political issues. When such things are discussed, certain comments and observations are made. Now there is scope for debate on which observation is right and what is not. It is a verbal observation and not an order or verdict. One cannot fight a legal battle based on a verbal observation. But debate can go on.”
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh launched a scathing attack against Justice Gangopadhyay, saying he is “misusing his chair of a judge” to engage in political activism. Ghosh said at a press conference, “We respect the judiciary because the judges are there to ensure justice is done. They work in silence and do not engage in image-building exercise. If there is something wrong then it definitely should be called wrong. If the state government is making mistake then it should be condemned. But does that mean that a judge will comment on whether a political party be recognised or not? I am not taking anyone’s name. I am saying AG which means Aranyadeb Gangopadhyay. Why is he considering him to be the Aranyadeb (phantom).”
He added, “If someone using the protection of the chair of a judge says that he would ensure our party loses its political recognition then I cannot feed him rasgulla. If he wants to take any action against me for saying this then he is free to do it. The chair of a judge cannot be used to execute one’s political wish list. What is he trying to do? Is he is trying to malign the image of West Bengal? Is he trying to be a hero? He is misusing the chair of a judge. He is trying to build his image to make way for his political aspirations after his retirement.”
It is not the first time that Justice Gangopadhyay has trained his guns against the TMC government. He had ordered CBI probes into the teachers’ recruitment scam and irregularities in the hiring process in the state over the last few months.
The investigation into the SSC recruitment scam led to the arrest of former Minister Partha Chatterjee and the recovery and seizure of movable and immovable property worth over Rs 100 crore. Former senior officials of the West Bengal Education Department, including a sitting Vice Chancellor Subiresh Bhattacharya, TMC MLA and former West Bengal Board of Primary Education president Manik Bhattacharya were arrested for their alleged involvement in the scam which involved giving jobs as teachers and non-teaching staff in state-run schools in exchange of money.
On September 20, Justice Gangopadhyay gave an interview to the Bengali television news channel ABP Ananda wherein he criticised the state government and also the Trinamool Congress.
He said that TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee should be jailed for three months for alleging that a section of the judiciary was hand in glove with the BJP. “I am aware that after the interview there will be controversy but whatever I am doing is as per the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, which states that Judges have freedom of expression but whatever they say has to be under the purview of law,” he had said.
Senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha said, “The TMC is needlessly attacking the judge. They should focus on rectifying their mistakes. The party must put an end to corruption.”