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Calcutta High Court dismisses plea to haul Abhishek Banerjee for contempt, but TMC MP-Governor joust continues

The Calcutta High Court dismissed a petition seeking suo motu cognizance of Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee's criticism of a section of the judiciary at a public rally in Haldia on Saturday, stating that the comments by him do not in any way scandalize the court's authority.

May 30, 2022 / 08:44 PM IST
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The Calcutta High Court on Monday dismissed a prayer for taking suo motu cognisance of Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee's ciriticism of a section of the judiciary at a public meeting at Haldia on Saturday, observing that it does not find the utterances by him scandalise the authority of the court in any manner.

This judgement came as Banerjee lashed out at Governor Jagdeep Dhankar for remaining silent when BJP leaders make controversial remarks and insult West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee while defending his own controversial remarks on the judiciary which has seen the Governor accusing the MP of crossing "the red line. Dhankar earlier in the day asked the state's chief secretary to update him by June 6 on the action taken regarding the Diamond Harbour MP's comments on Saturday against what he termed as 1 per cent of the judiciary for ordering a CBI enquiry into every case in state.

With a bench of the High Court dismissing the petition, it is to be seen whether the Governor will continue to press for action against the TMC National General Secretary. Two lawyers moved the vacation bench presided by Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya seeking suo motu cognisance of Banerjee's comments which they claimed lowers the prestige of the judiciary.

Dismissing the petition, the court said it does not find "sufficient reason to adopt the extreme measure of issuing a suo motu rule of contempt." The bench, also comprising Justice Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee, said that in the present case, undoubtedly the comments uttered may not be palatable to the general public and/or the members of the Judiciary.

It however said that this did not tantamount to a "contumacious act" (act of willful disobedience to authority). The bench said that if stray comments by any citizen, prompt the courts to issue suo motu rules of contempt, it would be impossible for the judiciary to deal with more important matters. The division bench said that it is, however, expected that people in public life should restrain themselves from making comments that may lower the prestige of the judiciary.

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Banerjee defended his criticism of a section of the judiciary by stating on Monday at a rally in Shyamnagar, near Kolkata, that he did not name any judge or mention any judgment in particular." He asserted that a citizen of this country "is free to criticize a judgment".

"Day before yesterday, during a rally, I made some remarks. The governor claimed that I have crossed the line. People of the state are very well aware of who is crossing the line. I had said that in judiciary, 99 per cent of people are good, only 1 per cent works as per instructions of those who control the levers of power This one per cent people exist everywhere, even in political parties," Banerjee said. "If I say something about the Judiciary, the governor reacts to it. It only proves that the remarks have hit the right spot. I have full respect for the judiciary," he said.

The youth leader clarified that he has no "animosity" against anyone for ordering a CBI probe in several cases but questioned the central agency's 'credibility and success rate' in solving several high profile cases. "What is the credibility and success rate of the central agency? Did they solve Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel theft case?" he questioned. The CBI has earlier too been attacked by TMC leaders including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for its failure to crack the 18-year-old case.

Banerjee said Dhankhar prefers to remain silent when similar utterances or insults are meted out to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee by leaders of the saffron camp. "The Governor is giving us lessons on democracy. Why was he silent when five people were shot dead by central forces during Bengal assembly polls? He prefers to stay silent when BJP leaders insult the Judiciary, make controversial remarks and insult Mamata Banerjee," he said.

Dhankhar, had reacted to Banerjee's fulminations on Sunday claiming that constitutional authorities in the state are under attack, and said the TMC leader had crossed the red line by criticising the judiciary. Trinamool Congress too on Monday came out in support of its national general secretary's comment on the judiciary and said it did not tantamount to contempt of court.

Senior TMC leader Chandrima Bhattacharya said anyone can speak about the judiciary and slammed Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar for "trying to score brownie points" on the issue. The Governor however did not seem to agree with this line of reasoning. Dhankar tweeted that he had asked the chief secretary to initiate all expected action and update by June 6, 2022 regards public targeting of judiciary by Diamond Harbour MP (over judiciary entrusting investigation to CBI in cases, including the infamous SSC scam), that can neither be overlooked nor countenanced."

In his communication to the chief secretary, which was uploaded in the governor's twitter handle, Dhankhar said that the MP through his accusations "scandalises the judiciary, interferes with the due course of justice process and reflects scant respect for the rule of law."
PTI
first published: May 30, 2022 08:44 pm
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