Midnight Deadline For Supreme Court Official, Set By High Court Judge

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A judge of the Calcutta High Court, who in a very unusual move, sat down for a TV interview and commented on cases he was hearing, has ordered the Supreme Court’s top official to produce before him the documents that led to his removal from a high-profile teachers’ recruitment case involving members of the ruling party in West Bengal. The interview itself had raised questions on propriety and the impartiality of the judge.
Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who was hearing petitions related to an alleged scam in the recruitment of teachers in the state, will have to stop hearing the case and be replaced by another judge after a bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud took note of a report by the Registrar General of the Calcutta High Court that the judge had given an interview to a news channel about the case.

Hearing an appeal by Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and a leader of her Trinamool Congress party, the Supreme Court also asked the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court to reassign the case to a different judge, citing “the need to preserve public confidence in the administration of justice”.

On Monday, the Supreme Court disapproved of the interview and said that if the judge had given an interview, then he could no longer hear the case. The court had asked the Registrar-General to verify and file an affidavit on the matter. Judges have no business granting interviews on pending matters, the Supreme Court said.

Justice Gangopadhyay, however, issued an order on Friday evening, directing the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to send him the original report and the official translation of his interview, as well as the affidavit of the Registrar General of the Calcutta High Court, by midnight.

“I direct the Secretary General of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to produce before me the report and the official translation of the interview given by me in media and the affidavit of the Registrar General of this Court in original, forthwith by 12 midnight today,” he wrote in his order.

He added that he would wait in his chamber till 12:15 a.m. “to get the said two sets in original which were placed before the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court today.”

The suit involves thousands of aspiring teachers who allegedly paid bribes to secure jobs in government schools, and in a departure from tradition, Justice Gangopadhyay had spoken about the case in an interview with a local news channel. Trinamool Congress National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee’s lawyer, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, had pointed out the interview to the top court and provided a transcript.

Last week, the top court had also paused 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 the High Court.

Commenting on the Supreme Court order earlier in the day, Abhishek Banerjee had said, “I have said before that any decision of the High Court or the Supreme Court is supreme for us. I have full faith, trust and faith in the judicial system in India. Since this is subjudice matter, I don’t want to comment on it. We welcome the Supreme Court’s order.”

His party’s spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said, “We have full faith in the judiciary and the judges. If anyone has committed a crime, there will be an investigation, there will be punishment. The court will do whatever the law thinks. In the case of Justice Gangopadhyay, we had a complaint that he was specifically attacking a political party and leader extrajudicially. Apart from that, we have full faith and respect for him as well.”

The Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar, however, said, “The verdict is very unfortunate. The people of West Bengal are disappointed.”

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