State govt’s battles with Calcutta HC spills from courtrooms to political arena

The tussle between judiciary and executive is nothing new in West Bengal. Often political parties, especially the ruling ones in the state, displeased over any verdict have gone hammer and tongs in criticizing a judgement on this count. At times even some judges have come under personal attack by the ruling party leaders but to a limited extent.

But never that attack from the political executives had reached such a level when the counter- blows against a particular judge had stopped to such a level where the judges concerned are being publicly doubted about their future political ambitions in making an observation within the court.

The controversy arose from the recent observation by the Calcutta High Court’s Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay threatening to recommend to the Election Commission of India (ECI) the cancellation of the political recognition of the Trinamool Congress and make the entire West Bengal cabinet a party in the multi-crore teachers’ recruitment scam in the state.

Justice Gangopadhyay’s observation on this count came following an admission in the court by the state education secretary, Manish Jain that the decision for creation of additional super-numeric posts for teachers to accommodate those already recruited illegally against some consideration earlier was taken by the state cabinet and was conveyed by the state education minister, Bratya Basu. That submission by Jain prompted Justice Gangopadhyay to make those observations.

However, that opened the pandora’s box. Trinamool Congress state general secretary and party spokesman, Kunal Ghosh launched a scathing attack against Justice Gangopadhyay claiming that he was behaving like a Phantom to project his own public image and fulfill his political ambitions in his post- retirement days.

“If anyone threatens to cancel the recognition of my party, I will not treat him with sweets. Let him take whatever action he wants against me,” Ghosh told the media persons. There were similar canards against him by Trinamool Congress leaders accusing Justice Gangopadhyay of being biased against the Trinamool Congress in his observations.

Recalls veteran political analyst Arundhati Mukherjee that a judge of the Calcutta High Court coming under the attack of the ruling party was not anything new in West Bengal.

“Previously there was an instance when former and late Justice Amitava Lala of Calcutta High Court faced the wrath of ruling CPI(M) in 2004 after his vehicle destined for the court got stuck on the roads because of a rally of the ruling party. Justice Lala thereafter made an observation in the court that such rallies on the streets of Kolkata should be banned on working days,” Mukherjee continued.

She added: “Irked by his comment, veteran CPI(M) leader and Left Front chairman, Biman Bose raised a slogan asking Justice Lala to flee from Bengal. However, the controversies on this count did not take a massive shape as Biman Bose went to court at a later stage and apologised for coining such a slogan.

“I have, however, neither seen such an instance where a judge of the Calcutta High Court makes such an extreme observation on cancelling the recognition of a political party nor such a scathing counter- attack against the judge concerned at such a personal level.”

Senior counsel of the Calcutta High Court, Kaushik Gupta said that while the legislature or the executive has every right to dislike or get offended or even criticize a particular judgement or observation by any judge, a fine line should be maintained on criticizing that judgement or observation and criticizing the judge concerned at the personal level by casting aspersions on his personal ambitions behind a judgement or an observation.

Gupta said: “In my long tenure of over two and half decades as a counsel of the Calcutta High Court I have come across several instances where a judge in his anguish over the development makes certain observations. But never have I seen such blatant counter- reactions from the legislature or executive.

“Second, a judge, if he deems it fit as per his own observation, can surely recommend to the ECI about any action against a political party. Whether that recommendation will stand or not will depend on future legal discourses in higher benches or higher courts. At the same time, I believe that a judge should speak more through his judgements rather than through activism.”

Veteran political observer and the former registrar of Calcutta University, Rajagopal Dhar Chakraborty feels that it is an unfortunate phenomenon currently in West Bengal that the judiciary-executive tussles have gone beyond courtrooms to political battlefields where attacks are more personal than general.

Dhar Chakraborty concluded by noting: “In my opinion this is a reflection of the general deterioration in the value of politics, where leaders of opponent parties do not follow the track of mutual courtesy and instead of resorting to constructive policy-oriented criticisms they resort to fledging cheap personal attacks against each other. And now these leaders have started fleecing these similar personnel against people from other spheres, including judiciary.”




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