West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday appeared virtually in a Calcutta High Court hearing on her petition challenging the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Suvendu Adhikari in Nandigram. The Trinamool Congress chairperson filed a plea, seeking the recusal of Justice Kaushik Chanda “in order to avoid any prejudice during hearing as he was an active BJP member”. The judge, however, did not announce a decision.
Going through Mamata’s plea, the court asked why the recusal matter was not raised on June 18 during the first hearing of the case.
Senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the chief minister, informed the HC that he did not mention the issue in the previous hearing because a formal application had not been filed in the matter at the time. He also pointed out various posts on microblogging sites where Justice Chanda could be seen participating in events organised by the BJP.
Since the matter was pending before the Chief Justice of the HC, Justice Chanda decided to reserve the order and said that the issue would be addressed judicially. The court reserved its judgment till the next hearing.
The TMC chief has challenged Adhikari’s victory over her in Nandigram in the April-May assembly polls in West Bengal that her party won. She has alleged possibilities of tampering with electronic voting machines (EVMs) and foul play in the counting process.
On June 18, Mamata Banerjee’s advocate wrote a letter to the HC Chief Justice’s secretary, requesting that the hearing of the ‘Nandigram recounting case’, which is currently before the single-judge bench of Justice Kaushik Chanda, be reassigned.
“My client had received a letter from the Chief Justice of this Court for confirmation of Justice Kaushik Chanda as a Permanent Judge of this Court. My client had objected to the confirmation of the Judge as a Permanent Judge of the High Court at Calcutta. My client has the utmost faith in the judicial system and the majesty of this Court. However, there is a reasonable apprehension in the mind of my client about the likelihood of bias on the part of the Hon’ble Judge,” the letter reads.
“My client has filed the Election Petition challenging the election of Suvendu Adhikari, a member of BJP. The adjudication of the Election Petition shall also have political ramifications. My client has been made aware that the Hon’ble Justice Kaushik Chanda was an active member of the 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 of the respondent and/or against my client,” it goes on to say.
Mamata had demanded a recount before the Election Commission but her plea was turned down. Later, she approached the Calcutta High Court and the matter was put up for hearing on June 18.
Justice Kaushik Chanda, however, adjourned the hearing to June 24. “Let the matter be listed next Thursday (on June 24),” he said after asking the TMC chief’s lawyer to serve copies of the election petition to the opposite parties.
Justice Chanda had then also said that Mamata Banerjee was required to be present on the first day of the hearing as it was an election petition.
In cases pertaining to the Representation of the People Act, the petitioner has to be present in court, say experts, or the plea may be dismissed.