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Innocent Admission

Calcutta HC judge reserves verdict on Mamata’s plea for recusal

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Kolkata, June 24, 2021-
The Calcutta High Court single judge bench of Justice Kaushik Chanda, whose recusal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has sought from hearing her election petition, on Thursday reserved judgement on her plea, asking her lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi that if he withdraws, wouldn’t it be giving in to the media trial.

The Chief Minister has objected to Justice Chanda hearing her petition citing “likelihood of bias “due to the associations the judge had with the BJP during his days as a lawyer”.

Banerjee’s election petition challenges the election of BJP candidate Suvendhu Adhikari, who defeated her in Nandigram in the recently-held West Bengal Assembly polls.

Banerjee, who was present during the trial virtually, had already written to Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal seeking recusal of Justice Chanda few days back which is presently pending. Referring to the application, Justice Chanda asked whether he should wait for an administrative order or should he proceed judicially.

To this, Singhvi said: “It is your Lordship’s prerogative to decide the matter on the judicial side. If you see a ground, you may recuse at your own discretion. A request pending before the CJ is irrelevant after your Lordship is judicially seized of the matter.”

Justice Chanda then asked Singhvi: “This case was listed before me on (June) 18th. That day no one said that petitioner has sought re-assignment apprehending bias? Is it not the duty of counsel to point this out? You appear in courts across the country, Dr Singhvi, what is the standard practice?”

in response, Singhvi replied that since a formal application was yet to be filed, there was no mention of recusal on the earlier date.

Stating that there was a “clear conflict of interest” in the matter, Singhvi said that Justice Chanda has been “closely associated with BJP” and that he was earlier the head of legal cell of the BJP and has also appeared previously on behalf of the BJP in various cases.

Showcasing some instances gathered from public sources showing Justice Chanda’s “close, personal, professional, pecuniary and ideological relationship” with the BJP, he submitted that Justice Chanda is yet to be appointed as a permanent Judge of the High Court and that Banerjee has conveyed her objections and reservations to such confirmation.

“It is the duty of the court to see that proceedings are free from any partiality. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. If fair minded people are likely to prejudge the case, they will not have confidence in the justice system,” Singhvi submitted.

Singhvi also relied on the tweets of lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien showing pictures of Justice Chanda, as a lawyer, participating in some BJP meetings. On this, the judge confirmed that the pictures shown in the tweets were his.

As Justice Chanda also said that it was not uncommon for lawyers to have political affiliations, noting Singhvi is himself is associated with the Congress, Singhvi said: “Judgeship is a divine role of doing justice. It is different from being a lawyer.”

Urging the judge to “recuse graciously”, he said: “Please take it that what I argued today was said on June 18. Would it have looked nice for me to say all this without an affidavit?”

At this, the judge said: “There is a media trial already ongoing before this issue came up before the Court. Hundreds of tweets have already been posted saying he should recuse. If I recuse now, will I be giving in to this media trial?”

Singhvi responded: “What is it worth to continue in a case like this with so much controversy? I am not saying that your Lordship’s shoulders are not broad enough to bear it. But what is the worth? Public opinion doesn’t matter. I can show 100 tweets in your support. But what is the worth to get involved in a controversy?” (Agency)

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