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The Two Judges’ Case

Two Calcutta High Court judges are at each other’s throats, one having accused the other of being an “interested party”, vis-a-vis the Trinamool Congress. The situation has become so bizarre that the Supreme Court has had to take it up suo motu, giving notice to the state

By Sujit Bhar

In an unprecedented development, the Supreme Court, in a special Saturday (January 27, 2023) sitting, stayed all further proceedings before the Calcutta High Court. A five-judge bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose will now hear the case on January 29.

The apex court had taken suo motu cognisance of an open clash between Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court and that Court’s division bench’s lead judge, Justice Soumen Sen. Justice Gangopadhyay has accused that Justice Sen was pulling a critical case for Trinamool Congress and was an “interested party”.

The case is about alleged irregularities in reserved category certificates for admission to MBBS courses in state-run medical colleges and hospitals. Allegations were that fake caste certificates were rampant and that several people had used such certificates to get admission to MBBS courses in the state.

Minutes after Justice Gangopadhyay referred the case to the CBI, the case was mentioned before the bench of Justices Sen and Uday Kumar by the state’s Advocate General Kishore Datta. The bench took it up immediately and stayed Justice Gangopadhyay’s order. This stay order, however, was in for a shock.

Justice Gangopadhyay, probably taking this as an affront—or for some other reason which isn’t clear at this moment—took up the matter yet again and asked the West Bengal Police to give the documents to the CBI. Not only that, Justice Gangopadhyay commented that Justice Sen, as head of the bench, had taken the (stay) decision to “save some political party in power”, going further, to suggest that Justice Sen’s actions were tantamount to misconduct.

Even while it is accepted that a division bench is a higher court than a single bench, Justice Gangopadhyay directed the authorities to ignore the division bench order, asking the CBI, yet again, to begin its probe. All this happened on January 24.

A day later, the division bench took the case up again, disagreed with Justice Gangopadhyay, and set aside that order. That didn’t end the almost weird turn of events. Justice Gangopadhyay was at it again, initiating a hearing, whence he not only ordered the AG to hand over papers to the CBI, but also passed further comments against Justice Sen.

Justice Gangopadhyay asked the AG under which law can a division bench stay an order of a single-judge when there was no memo of appeal. The AG made it clear that he need not reply to this question, because a single bench was “a lower court compared to the division bench.”

As the issue was becoming completely bizarre, Justice Gangopadhyay’s words in his order seemed a trifle below the belt. He wrote: “I have no other option but to ignore the order of the said division bench as the order has been passed in continuation of the illegal appeal void ab initio. I have ignored the said illegal order passed by the said division bench for the reasons as has been stated above including the ground of ‘interested person Hon’ble Justice Soumen Sen’.”

That was just the beginning of his diatribe. Justice Gangopadhyay further alleged that Justice Sen had called Justice Amrita Sinha of the same High Court to his chambers just before vacation started and had told her that Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew) has a political future and that he shouldn’t be disturbed.

It may be recollected that in April 2023, the apex court had ordered two cases related to the West Bengal school job recruitment scam—a case that has led to more than one minister of the state being put under detention—to be shifted from Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay. The then Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Justice TS Sivagnanam, had assigned the cases to Justice Sinha.

There is a back story as to why the case was taken away from Justice Gangopadhyay. In yet another special sitting of the top court, on April 26 last year, Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli passed an urgent order of stay on Justice Gangopadhyay’s order directing the Supreme Court’s Secretary General to produce the transcript of his “controversial” interview on ABP Ananda’s (a Bengal news channel) show Ghanta-Khanek Songe Suman.

During the interview, Justice Gangopadhyay had apparently passed some comments against Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee, related to the West Bengal teachers’ recruitment scam case. It was Justice Gangopadhyay who was handling the case at the time.

There was a transcript of the entire interview, prepared by the Interpreting Officer of Calcutta High Court and the officer had sent this, along with a CD containing the interview to the Supreme Court, where it was placed before the bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha.

Justice Sinha is currently hearing matters related to Abhisekh Banerjee.

Now Justice Gangopadhayay alleges that Justice Sen told Justice Sinha to dismiss both matters in which Banerjee is involved.

Not stopping at that, Justice Gangopadhyay also asked why Justice Sen has continued as judge of the Calcutta High Court when his transfer was recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium in 2021.

The incredible amplitude of the case forced the Supreme Court, which already has a history with Justice Gangopadhyay, to take up the issue suo motu. Monday (January 29) will be a critical day for judicial overreach in India, where alleged political links may also come to the fore. If they do, then the judiciary itself could have lost a great deal of public trust. The apex court would remain wary of such happenings.

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