Judge a BJP member, had objected to his confirmation: Mamata wants HC Nandigram case ‘re-assigned’

In a letter to HC Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, counsel for Banerjee Sanjay Basu has said the CM had earlier “conveyed her objections and reservations” about Justice Chanda’s confirmation as permanent Judge, and so there was “reasonable apprehension… of bias”.

Saying that Justice Kausik Chanda — Additional Judge in the Calcutta High Court who is hearing her petition seeking re-evaluation of the Nandigram poll results — is an “active member” of the BJP, and that she had objected to his confirmation as permanent Judge, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has asked for the case “to be re-assigned”, citing “likelihood of bias”.

While the case came up for hearing on Friday, Justice Chanda deferred it to June 24, and said the petitioner (Banerjee) would have to be present.

In a letter to HC Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, counsel for Banerjee Sanjay Basu has said the CM had earlier “conveyed her objections and reservations” about Justice Chanda’s confirmation as permanent Judge, and so there was “reasonable apprehension… of bias”.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Friday tweeted two photographs of Justice Chanda sharing a stage with West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh.

Asked if Justice Chanda was a BJP member, Ghosh said he “wasn’t sure”. Ghosh, however, admitted that before he became a Judge, Justice Chanda had attended the party’s legal cell programmes and “may have appeared” for the party before the HC. He said the photographs probably dated back to “around 2015”. “What is wrong with it,” he asked.

The TMC, which tweeted the photographs from its official handle on Friday, said: “Justice Kaushik Chanda is seen sharing a stage with BJP’s @DilipGhoshBJP. Unsurprisingly, he’s also the judge who has been assigned to hear the #Nandigram case. As the Indian Judiciary system gets murkier day by day, will there be any justice in this case? Only time will tell.”

Party MP Derek O’Brien also tweeted a list of “matters where Justice Kaushik Chanda has appeared for the BJP before the Calcutta High Court”. He listed 10 cases, from 2012-2014. “And now he has been assigned to hear the Nandigram election case. One big coincidence? …Can the judiciary sink any lower,” he tweeted.

“We have full faith in the judiciary… We don’t question Justice Chanda’s competency… but it raises questions regarding his neutrality,” said TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh, adding that the Judge should recuse himself.

In his letter to Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, Banerjee’s counsel, Sanjay Basu, said: “My client has filed the petition challenging the election of Suvendu Adhikari, a member of BJP; the adjudication of the election petition shall also have political ramification. My client has been made aware that hon’ble Justice Kausik Chanda was an active member of BJP. Thus in the event the hon’ble Judge takes up the election petition, there will be a reasonable apprehension in my client’s mind of bias on the part of the hon’ble judge in favour of the respondent and/or against my client.”

“The Hon’ble Justice Kausik Chanda is yet to be confirmed as permanent Judge… My client’s views are sought by the Hon’ble Chief Justice on the confirmation of the hon’ble Justice Kausik Chanda as a permanent judge of the Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta. My client has conveyed her objections and reservations to such confirmation. My client apprehends that the Hon’ble Judge is aware of her objections and as such my client reasonably apprehends that there is a likelihood of bias on the part of the Hon’ble Judge,” said the letter.

Speaking to The Indian Express, State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said: “Being a senior advocate at the Calcutta High Court, he was invited, and he attended programmes of our legal cell. I am not sure about the date, but it may be around 2015. What is wrong with it? Thereafter, he became the Additional Solicitor General. Being a senior advocate, he may have represented our party in cases. What is wrong with that? There are many advocates who attend programmes of political parties and fight cases. However, that was a long time before he became a Judge. It is wrong to question the neutrality of a Judge.”

“Does this mean that a senior advocate can never be a Judge. The Speaker in the State Assembly is from Trinamool Congress, but we respect him for his position and neutrality,” said Ghosh.

“It (TMC) has no proof whether the photograph it tweeted is original or not. We cannot say anything until we are sure about the photograph,” said Partha Ghosh, president of the BJP’s state legal cell.

“We have invited many advocates to our programmes, that does not mean they are biased. After being elevated as Judge, he was never associated with our programmes,” said Priyanka Tibrewal, member of the BJP’s legal cell and advocate in the HC.

Tibrewal claimed that the Judge “was never in the BJP” and “also never held any post in the BJP or its allied organisations”.

Senior Advocate and CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said, “When one becomes a Judge, he has to take oath under the Constitution. The point is not what cases he fought as an advocate, but his role as a Judge. No one should question the neutrality of the Judge.”

Born on January 4, 1974, Justice Chanda got a law degree from Calcutta University in 1997 and enrolled as an Advocate on December 18, 1998. He was designated as Senior Advocate on June 10, 2014. He served as Additional Solicitor General of India from April 2015 to September 2019, and was elevated to the HC as an Additional Judge on October 1, 2019.

TMC-turned-BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari had defeated Banerjee by a margin of 1,956 votes in the Nandigram Assembly elections earlier this year. Alleging malpractice, Banerjee had filed a petition in the HC, seeking re-evaluation of the results.

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