In the unfolding clash of the state government and the judiciary over Singur, Calcutta High Court, on Tuesday, found newly inducted minister of state for agriculture Becharam Manna primafacie guilty of "scandalising judges" at a public meeting on December 2.
The court has asked the minister to be personally present in court on December 18 and explain why he should not be punished for criminal contempt of court.
In a related development, the high court will take up the case of making derogatory comments against the judiciary by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday morning. The CM had said at a conference inside the state assembly in August that judgments could be bought (she was referring to the Calcutta High Court verdict on Singur, where the state government lost its appeal against the Tatas).
Manna, a leader of the Singur agitation spearheaded by Mamata Banerjee, had alleged at a public meeting that the CPI(M) and the Tatas colluded with judges to defeat the state government in the high court.
The minister, who was speaking at a public rally to mark the annual 'Singur Day' at Beraberi, even said that, should the verdict in the Supreme Court go against the government, the people of Singur "would create their own law".
Holding Manna primafacie guilty of criminal contempt of court, acting chief justice Pratap Kumar Ray and justice Subal Baidya said, "The statements of Manna amount to scandalising the judges and defeating the confidence of the people in orderly administration of justice. This also amounts to attack on the judiciary."
Proceeding against Manna on the basis of media reports, the judges directed the minister to appear personally on December 18 to reply to the charges against him.
If convicted for defamation of court, Manna could be sent to jail for up to six months, or fined R2,000, or both.
While Becharam Manna refused to comment on the issue, senior Trinamool leader Subrata Mukherjee said the government's law department was exploring all legal angles and that the law would "take its own course".
There has been widespread resentment against Manna's statement in the legal and political circles. The Congress, the CPI(M) and the BJP have all slammed the minister's comments. "Scandalising judges constitutes criminal contempt of court. If Manna isn't prosecuted, the people will lose faith in the judiciary," Bikash Bhattacharya, a legal luminary and CPI(M) leader, told HT.