West Bengal assembly speaker Biman Banerjee on Friday, while hearing the matter of the controversial appointment of Mukul Roy as the chairperson of the public accounts committee (PAC), accepted a petition from the Bharatiya Janata Party and promised that he will seek the Trinamool Congress legislator’s response. Roy won the April-May Bengal assembly election on a BJP ticket from the North Krishnanagar seat but switched to the TMC in June. Trinamool later appointed him the PAC chief, a position traditionally reserved for the opposition. The TMC has argued that Roy is still a member of the BJP in the assembly and, hence, is eligible for appointment.
The assembly speaker was unable to get Roy’s response on the matter on Friday as he was in Delhi.
Leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari appeared on the second day of the hearing, in a meeting that lasted 25 minutes. His lawyer Bilwadal Bhattacharya and Kalyani BJP MLA Ambika Ray were also present.
After hearing Adhikari in the presence of acting PAC chairperson Tapas Roy (as Mukul Roy is in Delhi), Biman Banerjee fixed August 17 as the next date.
Speaking to the media, Suvendu Adhikari said, “We trust our speaker and we are hopeful of a logical conclusion in this matter in a stipulated time. If we fail to get justice, then we will appeal before the court.”
On the TMC’s demand for bypolls on six vacant assembly seats in Bengal, the BJP leader said, “We are still passing through a pandemic situation. Under such circumstances, it will not be advisable to hold elections. They have so many MLAs; anyone can take charge as state chief minister like what has happened in Uttarakhand recently (the BJP brought in Pushkar Singh Dhami to replace Tirath Singh Rawat as CM after 4 months).”
The Dinhata and Santipur assembly seats fell vacant recently after BJP leaders Nisith Pramanik and Jagannath Sarkar resigned as MLAs to retain their Parliament memberships. Similarly, elections could not be held in the Samserganj and Jangipur seats in Murshidabad due to the deaths of candidates during the recent assembly polls. The Kharda seat also fell vacant in North 24 Parganas district after TMC candidate Kajal Sinha passed away. The fiercely fought assembly elections were won by the TMC, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee lost from Nandigram to Adhikari. She needs to win an election within six months, which ends in October.
The Calcutta High Court, meanwhile, will allow petitioners to file additional affidavits until August 4 in the PAC appointment matter. The West Bengal speaker can file an affidavit in response and the bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice R Bhardwaj will hear the matter on August 10.
On July 27, BJP MLA Ambika Ray from Kalyani in Nadia district moved the HC, challenging the PAC appointment. In the petition, Ray sought a reply on how Mukul Roy could become the PAC chairman when he was not nominated by the BJP for the post.
There was uproar in the assembly following Roy’s appointment on July 9, as BJP MLAs led by Adhikari staged a walkout while raising slogans against the decision.
The leader of opposition accused the ruling TMC of violating norms. The BJP wanted the post to go to its MLA, Ashok Lahiri. Party leaders raised the matter with the speaker who told them that the appointment was made following assembly rules.
BJP MLAs then resigned from the chairmanship of eight assembly committees and met governor Jagdeep Dhankhar with their grievances.
Roy remains a BJP MLA, experts say, as he has not resigned despite being asked several times by the opposition party.
There are 41 committees in the West Bengal assembly and PAC is considered the most crucial one because it functions as the audit body for the house.