Legal Eagle: Calcutta Judge’s Joining BJP Fuels Charge Of Biased Verdicts

Legal Eagle: Calcutta Judge’s Joining BJP Fuels Charge Of Biased Verdicts

Justice Gangopadhyay follows a long line of judges-turned-politicians after a Bombay High Court judge, Justice Vijay Bahuguna resigned his judgeship in 1995

Olav AlbuquerqueUpdated: Thursday, March 07, 2024, 09:27 PM IST
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Former Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay | ANI

Some maverick judges defy norms of judicial rectitude taught at the state judicial training academies. Others are adamant that transparency and justice go hand-in-hand like Justice Jasti Chelameshwar who called the first-ever judges’ press conference on January 12, 2018, to allege that the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra was allocating sensitive cases to benches sensitised to the government’s needs.

Others like Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court complain to their chief justice that they are being prevented from delivering justice. When that did not work, he held a press conference last year on the case that he was hearing. This culminated in the case being removed from his roster because as CJI DY Chandrachud declared, “sitting judges should not give interviews to TV channels on cases being adjudicated before them.” There are curbs on the right to free speech imposed by Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.

After Abhijit Gangopadhyay quit the judiciary on Wednesday, his remarks: “I approached them (the BJP) and they approached me,” fuelled allegations from his nemesis, the Trinamool Congress Party that all his judgments, one of which landed TMC minister Partha Chatterjee and his aide Arpita Mukherjee in jail on July 23, 2022, should be struck down because they were politically motivated.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee promptly dropped Chatterjee from her cabinet after his arrest. This proved Justice Gangopadhyay’s judgments were not politically motivated as alleged.

Justice Gangopadhyay follows a long line of judges-turned-politicians after a Bombay High Court judge, Justice Vijay Bahuguna resigned his judgeship in 1995 amidst a flurry of corruption charges to join the Congress. He was the son of Congress politician HN Bahuguna and was sworn in as a judge of the Allahabad High Court before being transferred to the Bombay High Court and resigning under a cloud.

After quitting as a judge, Bahuguna contested elections and won to become the chief minister of Uttarakhand. But here too, corruption charges followed him because his detractors alleged he did not handle the flood relief program properly. Justice Bahuguna’s was arguably the first case of a high court judge becoming a chief minister.

There have been other maverick judges like Justice CS Karnan from the Madras High Court who conducted a press conference in his chamber and alleged his brother judges discriminated against him because of his caste. He alleged a brother judge had “bought” his LL.B degree. He was transferred from the Madras High Court to the Calcutta High Court where he continued to make allegations against brother judges culminating in the Supreme Court asking him if he wanted to be examined by a panel of psychiatrists.

He refused and went underground. He was arrested and had to remain in jail for six months. He went home to Chennai where he was arrested again for derogatory statements against wives of judges. He contested elections after he floated a political party called the Anti-Corruption Democratic Party.

And finally, there are a few ignominious women high court judges like BS Indrakala who filed a writ petition in the Karnataka high court in 2021 alleging she was cheated of Rs 8.5 crore she had given as a bribe to an astrologer, Yuvaraj Swami, so that she could become the Karnataka governor. Her writ petition asking for action against the astrologer who promised to make her a governor was an example of utter brazenness.

To return to Justice Gangopadhyay, he sent the education minister belonging to the TMC to jail. His doggedness and determination to expose the corrupt politicians in the TMC culminated in the Calcutta High Court Bar Association, passing a resolution on April 13, 2022, to boycott his court. The All India Trinamool Congress law cell protested outside his courtroom and the then Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, now India’s Vice President, wrote a letter to the West Bengal chief minister about the ruckus created by Justice Gangopadhyay.

On May 17, 2022, in another case, he asked the then West Bengal minister for education, Paresh Chandra Adhikary, from the department of school education to appear before the CBI because he used influence to illegally appoint his daughter Ankita Adhikary as a teacher.  He also urged the chief minister and Governor to sack Adhikary. On May 18, Gangopadhyay directed the former Education Minister Partha Chatterjee to appear before the CBI for the investigation of an alleged teacher recruitment scam before he was arrested.

In September 2022, Justice Gangopadhyay instructed the West Bengal School Service Commission to replace illegally appointed school teachers with eligible waiting list candidates. In July 2023, he instructed the West Bengal School Service Commission to publish the names of 907 illegally appointed school teachers to teach in classes XI and XII.

The 61-year-old judge at the Calcutta High Court ordered multiple investigations by the CBI into numerous cases related to the West Bengal teachers' recruitment scam. He issued directives for filing of FIRs and midnight interrogations of the accused, including ministers and education board chairpersons which was unusual. He complained about a division bench of Justices Harish Tandon and Rabindranath Samantha allegedly thwarting his bid to do justice in the recruitment scam.

Not content with mere inquiries, Justice Gangopadhyay flayed the tardiness of the probe and urged authorities to catch the "real culprits" who as always, remained scot-free. His bold actions led to the arrest of high-profile political figures, including three Trinamool Congress MLAs and over a dozen government officials implicated in the scam. He annulled over 4,000 illegally made appointments and compelling the state government to disclose manipulated candidates’ marks from 2014 to 2020.

It is a tragedy that such judges are forced to resign from the judiciary to join politics where they feel they will make a difference. But politics is a dirty game for dirty men while the politics within the judiciary is of a different kind.

Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist and advocate at the Bombay High Court

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