Calcutta High Court Justice Kausik Chanda on Wednesday recused himself from hearing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s plea challenging the Assembly election results in Nandigram, the constituency from which she contested, reported Bar and Bench.
However, the court fined the chief minister Rs 5 lakh for the way in which she sought the judge’s recusal.
On June 24, Banerjee had moved a petition in the Calcutta High Court seeking Chanda’s recusal from hearing her plea. In her plea, Banerjee cited “likelihood of bias”, claiming that Chanda was associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party during his days as a lawyer.
Chanda said that when he first took up the case on June 18, there was no request for his recusal. However, he said that after the hearing, Trinamool Congress leaders put up posts on Twitter about his association with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“I am unable to convince myself that there is a conflict of interest,” Chanda said during pronouncement of the order on Wednesday, reported Live Law. “The applicant has taken too somber a view of [the] integrity of a judge. I have no personal inclination to hear out the petitioner’s case. I have no hesitation in taking up this case either. It is my constitutional duty to hear out a case assigned to me by the chief justice.”
Chanda said that a judge also has voting rights and political leanings like any other citizen. However, previous associations of a judge could not be considered as apprehension of bias as it would lead to “bench hunting”, he added.
Following the observations, Chanda stepped aside from the proceedings in the case, noting that “trouble-mongers will try to keep the controversy alive” if he did not recuse himself from the matter.
The court ordered that the fine amount would have to be deposited with the West Bengal Bar Council within two weeks. The money would be used for families of lawyers who died due to Covid-19, the court said, according to Bar and Bench.
The West Bengal chief minister had lost the Nandigram Assembly seat to Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari, her former close aide who had joined the saffron party before the elections.
On June 17, Banerjee had moved the Calcutta High Court, challenging the Nandigram election result.
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. The letter stated that Justice Chanda was an active member of the BJP before he became a judge, and this could lead to bias.
Banerjee’s counsel had cited tweets by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, where Chanda could be seen participating in meetings of the BJP. Justice Chanda had confirmed that the pictures were of him.
Chanda had, 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.
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.