Mamata Banerjee today joined a Calcutta High Court hearing on her petition challenging the election of the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram virtually. The Bengal Chief Minister had filed a petition asking that Justice Kaushik Chanda exit the case over “conflict of interest”. The judge did not announce any decision.
Justice Chanda referred to Mamata Banerjee request for him to drop out and asked: “You filed a reassignment plea before the acting Chief Justice on 16 June. Why didn’t you tell me that when I heard the case on June 18? You can’t seek administrative and legal intervention at same time?”
Lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Mamata Banerjee, said the judge should recuse as there was a conflict of interest.
Mamata Banerjee wants the case to be re-assigned to a different court as she alleges Justice Chanda has links with the BJP and would be biased.
In a letter to the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court on June 16, Ms Banerjee had given two reasons for her request.
Justice Kaushik Chanda was associated with the BJP in the past, Ms Banerjee’s letter said, and therefore there was “reasonable apprehension of bias… in favour of the respondent…”, who is also from the BJP.
Ms Banerjee also said she “reasonably apprehends likelihood of bias” because in April she had objected to Justice Chanda’s confirmation as a permanent judge at Calcutta High Court.
“… it will lead to a situation and perception whereby the Honourable Judge, in adjudicating the matter, may be said to be ‘judge in his own cause’,” the Chief Minister wrote in her letter.
“Justice must not only be done; it must also be seen to be done,” she added, as she underlined the need to “sustain the confidence of the public in the judiciary”.
Ms Banerjee’s petition was briefly heard by Justice Chanda on June 18 and the case was adjourned to June 24. She was not present in court in the previous hearing.
Sources said in cases related to the Representation of the People Act, the petitioner – in this case Ms Banerjee – needed to be present in court. Otherwise, the court may dismiss the plea.
Ms Banerjee had last month challenged the election result in Nandigram, where she contested against her protege-turned-rival Suvendu Adhikari and lost by less than 2,000 votes.
She asked for Mr Adhikari’s election to be declared void on grounds of “corrupt practices” including bribery, promotion of hatred and enmity, and seeking of votes on the basis of religion.
In addition to Ms Banerjee, four other Trinamool leaders who lost their elections also filed petitions.