Observing that judges have no business granting interviews on pending matters, the Supreme Court on Monday sought a report within four days from the Registrar General of the Calcutta High Court on whether Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay gave an interview to a news channel about the case related to the school job-for-bribe case in West Bengal.
“I just want to say it that judges have no business granting interviews on matters which are pending,” Chief Justice D Y Chandachud, sharing a bench with Justice P S Narasimha, said while taking strong note of the purported interview given by Justice Gangopadhyay to a news channel about the case.
“The petitioner (TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee) has annexed a translated transcript of an interview of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay on a TV Channel ABP Ananda. The Registrar General of Calcutta High Court is directed to clarify from the judge as to whether he had been interviewed by… of the news channel. The Registrar General is directed to file his affidavit before this court on or before Thursday. We will list it on Friday,” the bench said.
The top court said it’s order will not come in the way of the ongoing investigation by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the alleged scam.
On being told by Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the central probe agencies, that this may lead to stalling of the ongoing probe, the bench said the judge should not be giving an interview about the pending case that is before the single judge bench.
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Mr Banerjee, referred to the translated transcription of the interview given by Justice Gangopadhyay in which he allegedly spoke against the TMC MP and party general secretary.
“With the greatest respect and humility, this just cannot be done,” the senior lawyer said.
On being told that the purported interview was there on social media, the bench said it wanted the Registrar General to file an affidavit to this effect and, at the moment, it was not getting into the merits of the case.
“I just want to say that judges have no business granting interviews on matters which are pending. If he said that about the petitioner, he has no business participating in the proceedings. The question is whether a judge who has made statements like these about a political personality should he be allowed to participate in the hearings. There has to be some process,” the CJI orally observed.
The CJI said the judge should have recused himself and paved way for setting up another bench by the chief justice of the high court.
On April 17, the top court had stayed the Calcutta High Court’s April 13 order directing the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to interrogate Mr Banerjee and Kuntal Ghosh, an accused in the case, and file a report in HC based on that.
Prior to this, the single judge bench of the Calcutta High Court of Justice Gangopadhyay had also directed the West Bengal police not to lodge any FIR against CBI and Enforcement Directorate officers probing the alleged scam.
The top court had taken the TMC leader’s plea for urgent hearing after Mr Singhvi mentioned it.
“List the petition on April 24, 2023. Till the next date of listing, there shall be a stay of all the directions against the petitioner (Mr Banerjee) in pursuance to the directions contained in the impugned order of the single judge bench of the high court on April 13,” the top court had said.
The high court had taken note of the March 29 public speech of Abhishek Banerjee, a nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in which he had purportedly said that Mr Ghosh, an accused in the case, was being pressured by the central probe agencies to name him in the case.
Kuntal Ghosh, an accused in the school jobs scam case currently lodged in custody, had also soon after alleged that he was being pressured by investigators to allege the complicity of Mr Banerjee, TMC’s unofficial number two.
Mr Singhvi had also referred to the high court order which said no police station in the state shall lodge any FIR against the CBI and ED officers probing the recruitment scam.
The Calcutta High Court had on April 13 passed a slew of directions asking the police not to lodge FIRs on complaints against officers of the CBI or the ED investigating the alleged recruitment scam related to the West Bengal Central School Service Commission and the West Bengal Board of Primary Education without its permission.
It had asked the central agencies to probe the role of Mr Banerjee, saying such an “interrogation should be made soon”.
The high court was hearing a petition related to alleged irregularities in recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in West Bengal government-sponsored and aided schools.
The high court had said that Mr Ghosh could also be questioned soon by the central agencies along with Mr Banerjee.
Holding that the complaint by Ghosh, alleging pressure from officials to implicate Mr Banerjee in the case, was made on March 31 before the special CBI court and on April 1 to Hastings police station in Kolkata, the high court had said the matter requires investigation.
“It is a matter to be enquired and investigated whether Kuntal Ghosh took the cue from the public speech of said Abhishek Banerjee for which both of them can be interrogated both by ED and by CBI and such interrogation should be made soon,” the HC judge had said.
Maintaining that “terrorising” investigating officers of a probe agency by filing a complaint before the police is wholly unwarranted, the high court had said such endeavours are to be stopped forthwith as otherwise officers will not be able to act in a fearless manner.
The HC had said Mr Ghosh had not complained of any torture by CBI or ED officers immediately after his custody with the two agencies ended, and when he was sent to judicial remand, but did so in the complaints of March 31 and April 1.
Mr Ghosh was in ED custody after his arrest by the agency till February 2, and in CBI custody from February 20 to 23.
The high court had said if the money trail from the teaching jobs scam is considered a human body, the CBI and ED have reached maximum up to the waist of the body in the investigation and the heart and the head are yet to be touched.
The single judge had expressed hope that the agencies will be able to do so.