September 22, 2012

Now Judiciary in the Line of Fire from Mamata

KOLKATA: WEST Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee hit out at the judiciary on August 14, alleging there were instances when court judgements have been delivered for money. This was a statement made while speaking at a seminar in the Assembly House on the platinum jubilee of the state assembly.

"What I see. Why should many judgements today be delivered for money? Why? I am sorry to say. I am saying this in the Assembly," she said with venom. "One may file a contempt case against me. I will be really very happy. I may be charged with defamation and I may even be arrested. But I will have to give my opinion at some place or the other," the chief minister said.

This comment has not been observed as a general or stray criticism of a section of the judiciary. It was more a reflection of consecutive setbacks for state government in the courts in recent period, which included Singur law.

That the chief minister was merciless for anyone questioning her government has been reflected by her attack against the judicial commissions. Questioning the efficacy and accountability of judicial commissions, the chief minister said "attempts are being systematically made to destroy Constitutional structures.... So much money is spent on these commissions, but the only thing they do is talk to higher officials and do nothing," she added. "The commissions summon the chief secretary, the home secretary, the DGP, the commisisoner of police and they are made to sit for 12 hours," she alleged.

This was her reaction to the strong verdict of state human rights commission regarding the cartoon controversy. The commission has strongly criticised the police action against Professor Ambeksh Mahapatra and his neighbor Subrata Sengupta in April this year for forwarding an e-mail consisting of a cartoon of Mamata Banerjee and Mukul Roy. The commission has directed the state government to pay Rs 50,000 each to both of them as compensation. The commission also directed to initiate departmental proceeding against the police officers.

The chief minister’s intolerance to any amount of criticism has now spread to judiciary. But it has evoked strong reactions from different quarters in the country. "It is a serious allegation against the entire judiciary, which is very irresponsible, especially for a chief minister," Supreme Court Bar Association president Pravin Parekh said. He said SCBA has not taken any decision to move the court against the remarks made by the chief minister. He, however, said he has heard that some petition is likely to be filed. Parekh said there is an option to move the Supreme Court or the Calcutta High Court for contempt and also for seeking damages.

"What about the cases, she has won in court? Who paid the judges? Mamata? This shows the absurdity of the allegations. I mean, one expects a mature reaction...I am very very disturbed," eminent lawyer Soli Sorabjee said. Retired Justice Santosh Hegde, who was once Lokayukta of Karnataka,  said the chief minister should have been more prudent. "...If this is going to be the tone and tenor of Indian democracy, then I think our Constitution is in serious peril," senior Supreme Court advocate Harish Salve said. Terming as "highly irresponsible" Banerjee's statement, Constitutional expert and lawyer P P Rao said, "this is not expected from a person holding a responsible position". 

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