Kolkata: Though Calcutta High Court judge 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 500,000 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 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. Justice Chanda said he had “no personal inclination to hear out the case” nor did he have any “hesitation in taking up the case” but he still chose to recuse because “the two persons involved in this case belong to the highest echelons of state politics.
Some opportunists have already emerged... in the name of saving the judiciary. These trouble-mongers will try to keep the controversy alive and create newer controversies. 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,” the judge said. The fine of Rs 500,000 should be paid to the Bar Council of West Bengal to help families of advocates who lost their lives to Covid, he ordered.
Banerjee did not respond to media’s questions on the fine. “This is a sub-judice matter. I will not speak on this. The lawyers will take a decision,” she said. But other Trinamool leaders as well as the BJP’s IT Cell chief took to Twitter after the order. Trinamool Rajya Sabha leader and spokesperson Derek O’Brien, without directly referring to the judgment, tweeted: “We live and learn. We live in a world where the cost of speaking the truth now comes with a staggering price tag: Rs 500,000. We live in a world where propaganda and falsehood are also meted out. The price: FREE. Got the reference? Modi hai to mumkin Hai. Go figure.”
Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra, whose tweet listing the cases Justice Chanda had appeared for the BJP as a lawyer was mentioned in Justice Chanda’s order, tweeted: “Petulance at its best today. Realising no way out but to recuse himself he decides to slap Rs 500,000 fine simply because he can. Kind of like teacher realises student is correct & breaks blackboard.” BJP leader Amit Malviya, however, felt the fine was “a small sum”. “The fine on Banerjee for showing the judiciary in poor light is a small sum, given the potential of her actions and utterances to cause erosion of trust of the common man in our institutions. She had similarly maligned EC during elections,” he tweeted.
Justice Chanda said in his order that he did not agree with the CM’s petition that his “long, close, personal, professional, pecuniary and ideological relationship” with a political party posed a “conflict of interest. It is almost impossible in this country to get a person who may not have political views. Anyone interested in politics may be said to have an ‘interest’. Like any other citizen of the country, a judge too exercises voting rights in favour of a political party but lays aside individual predilections while deciding a case,” he said. “The past association of a judge with a political party by itself cannot form apprehension of bias.”