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Courting Controversy: Mamata Banerjee fined

Kolkata: Deputy Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had approached the Calcutta High Court to challenge the Assembly election results in Nandigram, the seat from which she contested, but Justice Kausik Chanda recused himself from hearing the case. The court, however, fined the chief minister Rs 5 lakh for the way in which she sought the judge’s recusal.

In a petition filed on June 24, Banerjee sought Chanda’s recusal from hearing her case. Chanda was associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party during his days as a lawyer, Banerjee argued in her motion, raising the possibility of bias. On June 18, when Chanda first took over the case, there was no request for him to recuse himself. Nevertheless, he said that after the hearing, Trinamool Congress leaders posted on Twitter about his association with the BJP.

During the pronouncement of the order, Chanda claimed he could not convince himself that a conflict exists. ‘The applicant has taken a too-somber view of a judge’s integrity. It is not my personal preference to hear out the petitioner. The case does not frighten me either. As a judge, it is my constitutional duty to hear a case assigned to me by the chief justice’. Chanda said judges also have voting rights and political interests like any other citizen. However, previous associations with a judge cannot be considered an indication of bias, he said, as it would lead to ‘bench hunting’.

Chanda stepped aside from the proceedings in the case after observing that ‘trouble-mongers will try to keep the controversy alive’ if he did not recuse himself. The fine amount must be deposited with the West Bengal Bar Council within two weeks, the court ordered. The money would be used for the families of lawyers who died after contracting Covid-19, the court said, according to Bar and Bench.

The West Bengal chief minister had lost the Nandigram Assembly seat to BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari, a former close aide of hers who joined the saffron party before the election. The Nandigram election result had been challenged by Banerjee in the Calcutta High Court on June 17.

Chanda was rostered to hear the petition, and Banerjee wrote to Calcutta High Court Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal to ask him to reassign it. It stated that before becoming a judge, Justice Chanda had been an active member of the BJP, which could cause bias. Counsel for Banerjee cited tweets by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, where Chanda was shown attending meetings of the BJP. Chanda confirmed the pictures belonged to him. The Minister had, however, pointed out that his decision could be seen as ‘giving in to media trial’, as news articles had already reported about his reported association with the BJP.

Read more: OTT Kerala to be born on Kerala Piravi

Counting controversy in Nandigram 
On May 2, there was a great deal of confusion surrounding the results of the election. There was confusion after it was reported around 4.30 pm that Banerjee won by a margin of 1,200 votes, even though the counting was still in progress. Adhikari defeated Banerjee by a margin of 1,956 votes, according to the Election Commission. Banerjee alleged ‘looting and cheating’ in the counting process. The Election Commission denied the Trinamool Congress’ request to recount votes. Banerjee had said she would appeal the decision in court.


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