West Bengal

Justice Kaushik Chanda of Calcutta High Court recuses himself from hearing Mamata Banerjee’s election petition, takes exception to ‘vilification adopted’ and fines petitioner Rs.5 lakh

Published : July 07, 2021 22:07 IST

A view of the Calcutta High Court. Photo: The Hindu Archives

The main reason behind the recusal petition was Justice Kaushik Chanda’s close association with the BJP when he was a lawyer.

In connection with the election petition filed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Calcutta High Court judge Kaushik Chanda recused himself from hearing the case on July 7 and fined Mamata Banerjee Rs.5 lakh for the “calculated psychological offensives and vilification adopted to seek recusal”. Mamata Banerjee had filed a petition in June challenging the Nandigram Assembly election result—she lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Suvendu Adhikari. When the case was assigned to Justice Kaushik Chanda’s bench, Mamata Banerjee wrote to Justice Rajesh Bindal, acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, seeking reassignment of the petition to another Bench on the apprehension of bias against her by Justice Kaushik Chanda.

The main reason behind the recusal petition was Justice Kaushik Chanda’s close association with the BJP when he was a lawyer. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Mamata Banerjee, had pointed to a conflict of interest given the judge’s “close, personal, professional, pecuniary and ideological relationship" with the BJP. In his order, Justice Kaushik Chanda said that Singhvi’s argument “takes too sombre a view of the integrity of a Judge”. “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,” he stated in his order.

Another reason for Mamata Banerjee to petition for recusal was because she feared that the bench may be biased against her as she had objected to Justice Kaushik Chanda’s confirmation as a permanent judge of the Calcutta High Court. The judge in his order said that such ground cannot justify recusal. “The petitioner cannot seek recusal based upon her own consent or objection with regard to the appointment of a judge. A judge cannot be said to be biased because of a litigant’s own perception and action,” he said. According to him the “unfortunate” part of the episode was that the letter addressed to the Chief Justice was “deliberately made public”. “The letter contained highly confidential information concerning the appointment of a judge of the High Court, and the petitioner, being the Chief Minister of the State, who took the oath of secrecy, was constitutionally obliged to maintain the secrecy of such information. In all probability, such a ground has been made in a bid to ensure that anyhow or somehow the case is not heard by this Bench,” said the judge in his order.

Pointing out that he had no “personal inclination” to hear the election petition nor any “hesitation in taking up the case,” the judge said that he was recusing himself for a “different reason”. “The imbroglio stemmed from the inception of the litigation was due to the assignment of this case before this Bench. Since the two persons involved in this case belong to the highest echelon of the 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. 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,” said the judge in his order.

Justice Kaushik Chanda came down hard upon the manner in which his recusal was sought. He pointed out that the practice was to “approach the same judge for recusal before whom the case is assigned”, but the petitioner had approached the Chief Justice on June 16 by way of writing the letter for reassignment of the case. The judge said in his order: “The election petition was first taken up for hearing on 18th June 2021 before this Bench, and 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….”

In the order, the judge also referred to a number of tweets and public statements made by senior Trinamool Congress leaders. According to him, the chronology of events suggested that “a deliberate and conscious attempt was made to influence” his decision before the recusal application was placed before him for judicial consideration on June 24. Taking strong exception to such methods, the judge said, “The calculated psychological offensives and vilification adopted to seek recusal need to be firmly repulsed, and a cost of Rupees five lakh is imposed upon the petitioner.” The amount is to be deposited with the Bar Council of West Bengal within two weeks, and the Bar Council has been instructed to set aside the money for the families of the advocates who had succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic.