Kaushik Chanda, an Additional Judge of the Calcutta High Court whom the Supreme Court Collegium has appointed as a Permanent Judge, was in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's line of fire over his alleged proximity to the BJP and the TMC leader had even opposed his confirmation. Justice Chanda had on July 7 recused himself from hearing a petition by the Trinamool Congress chief challenging the election of Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Suvendu Adhikari from Nandigram after she expressed apprehension of bias against her by the judge.
The Collegium headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana met on August 17 and approved the proposal. The statement was uploaded on the apex court's website on Thursday. Besides Ramana, Justices U U Lalit and A M Khanwilkar are part of the three-member Collegium which takes decisions with regard to the appointment of high court judges.
Seeking reassignment of her election petition to another bench, Banerjee's counsel had also written to the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, saying the chief minister "had objected to the confirmation of the Hon'ble Judge as a Permanent Judge of the Hon'ble High Court at Calcutta", and as such, apprehends that there is a likelihood of bias on the part of the judge concerned. While recusing himself from the case, Justice Chanda had imposed a cost of Rs five lakh on Banerjee for the manner in which she had sought his recusal.
He had noted in the order that Banerjee sought his recusal "since she apprehends that her objection against my confirmation as a Permanent Judge of this court is known to me", and maintained that in his view, such a ground cannot justify recusal. The petitioner cannot seek recusal based upon her own consent or objection with regard to the appointment of a judge, the bench said, adding that a judge cannot be said to be biased because of a litigant's own perception and action. "If such an argument is accepted, the election petition cannot be tried before this court since the petitioner, in her capacity as the Chief Minister of the State, has either objected or gave consent to the appointments of most of the Hon'ble Judges of this Court," Justice Chanda had said.
In his order, Justice Chanda had noted that a letter by the petitioner's counsel to the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court on June 16 seeking that the election petition be reassigned to another judge "contained highly confidential information concerning the appointment of a Judge of the High Court, and the petitioner, being the Chief Minister of the State, who took the oath of secrecy, was constitutionally obliged to maintain the secrecy of such information." Releasing the election petition of Banerjee on an application by her for recusal expressing apprehension of bias, Justice Chanda said that he was doing so in order to thwart at the outset attempts by trouble-mongers to keep the controversy alive. He had noted that like any other citizen of the country a judge also exercises his voting rights in favour of a political party, but he lays aside his individual predilection while deciding a case.
He had said that it is preposterous to suggest that a judge having a past association with a political party as a lawyer should not receive a case involving the said political party or any of its members. "The past association of a judge with a political party by itself cannot form apprehension of bias," the bench said. "This proposition, if allowed to be accepted, would be destructive to the long-lived and deep-rooted notion of neutrality associated with the justice delivery system and lead to the unfair practice of Bench hunting to resist a fair adjudication by an unscrupulous litigant," Justice Chanda observed.
Noting that "the script was already prepared; the dramatis personae were ready to launch a well-rehearsed drama outside the Court," Justice Chanda said, "On the own showing of the petitioner in the recusal application, it appears that the chief national spokesperson and leader of the petitioner's party in the Rajya Sabha was ready by that time with two photographs of mine attending a programme of BJP legal cell in the year 2016." Justice Chanda said that another member of Parliament of the said party also by that time, apparently, "was ready with a purported list of cases where I had appeared for the Bharatiya Janata Party as a lawyer." Banerjee's lawyers had suggested that Justice Chanda should recuse himself from the case since he was associated with the legal cell of the BJP before his elevation as a judge and had appeared in a number of cases on its behalf before the high court as a lawyer. Congress leader and Supreme Court advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the TMC supremo, had submitted that "the Hon'ble Judge of this Hon'ble Court should be like Caesar's wife, above suspicion".