West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday moved a plea in the Calcutta High Court seeking recusal of Justice Kaushik Chanda from hearing her petition that challenged the poll result for the Nandigram constituency in the Assembly elections, reported Live Law.
In her plea, Banerjee cited “likelihood of bias”, suggesting Chanda was associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party during his days as a lawyer. In Thursday’s hearing, Chanda reserved order on the recusal plea after Banerjee’s counsel, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, insisted that the matter had to be decided upon first before the judge hears the petition on poll result.
Last week, Banerjee had moved the Calcutta High Court, challenging the Nandigram election result. The West Bengal chief minister had lost the Nandigram seat to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari, her former close aide who had joined the saffron party before the elections.
After Chanda was rostered to hear the petition, Banerjee wrote to Calcutta High Court Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal requesting him to reassign the petition, Bar and Bench reported. The letter stated that Justice Chanda was an active member of the BJP before he became a judge, and this could lead to bias.
In Thursday’s hearing, Singhvi mentioned that Banerjee has filed a plea seeking Chanda’s recusal from the case.
“This case was listed before me on 18th...That day no one said that petitioner has sought re-assignment apprehending bias,” Chanda told Singhvi. “Is it not duty of the Counsel to point this out?”
To this, Singhvi replied that he did not mention the recusal plea in the earlier hearing, as a formal application had not been filed.
Chanda then mentioned Banerjee’s letter to the chief justice, and asked Singhvi, if he should wait for an administrative order or proceed on the recusal plea judicially, Live Law reported.
“It is your lordship’s prerogative to decide the matter on judicial side,” Singhvi replied. “If you see a ground, you may recuse at your own discretion.” Singhvi added that there was “clear conflict of interest” in Chanda hearing the case and submitted that he would challenge the court’s order on the original plea, on these grounds, in any case.
Banerjee’s counsel then went on cite tweets by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, where Chanda could be seen participating in meetings of the BJP. The judge confirmed that the pictures were of him.
Chanda, however, pointed out that his decision on the matter could be seen as “giving in to media trial”, as the matter of his reported association with the BJP was already being reported by news outlets.
He then decided that the matter will be addressed judicially and reserved his order on the matter.
Nandigram counting controversy
There was massive confusion surrounding the results of the seat on the day of the counting on May 2. The confusion emerged after it was reported around 4.30 pm that Banerjee had won the seat by a margin of 1,200 votes though the counting of votes was under progress. Later, the Election Commission declared that Adhikari had defeated Banerjee by a margin of 1,956 votes.
Banerjee had then alleged “looting and cheating” in the counting process. The Trinamool Congress had sought to recount votes – a request the Election Commission denied. Banerjee had said that she will move the court against the result.