Calcutta high court on Wednesday adjourned the criminal contempt case against the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, for scandalising the judiciary by making derogatory statements against the judges at a seminar in the state Assembly complex on August 14.
Placing the newspapers reports before the Acting Chief Justice Pratap Kumar Ray and Justice Subal Baidya, former mayor and advocate Bikash Bhattacharya said that Banerjee’s imputations concerning judiciary were more damaging than that of her minister, Becharam Manna, who had been held, prima facie, guilty of criminal contempt of court on December 4.
Agreeing, prima facie, with Bhattacharya, the judges said that they would also view the video recorded statement of Banerjee supplied by two Bengali TV channels and pass order on December 10 whether to issue notice to Banerjee for her prosecution for criminal contempt of court.
Assisting the court, barrister Samaraditya Pal told the court that under Section 13 of the Contempt of Court Act, Banerjee can be exonerated if she can prove her allegations by providing evidence.
On August 14, the second day of the Assembly’s platinum jubilee celebrations, Banerjee had censored the judiciary, alleging there were instances of court judgments being bought.
“At times favourable verdicts are given in return for money. These days, judgments are purchased. It is unfortunate that people have to buy justice. I am not afraid of money and muscle power. I am prepared to face the consequences if there is a suit against me, or if I am arrested for my comments,” Banerjee had said.
Banerjee’s comments came just months after the state government suffered a series of major setbacks in the courts. The most prominent of these was the verdict by a Division Bench presided over by then justice PC Ghose, striking down the Singur Act as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘void’.
Bhattacharya then brought media reports of Banerjee’s remarks to the notice of a Division Bench headed by the then Justice KJ Sengupta, which also appointed two senior barristers for assistance.
The barristers also examined the media reports and opined that Banerjee’s statements against the judiciary did, in fact, constitute criminal contempt of court and a notice should, therefore, be issued to her.
The judges then reserved their verdict. But during the puja vacation, on October 31, Justice Sengupta was transferred to Uttarakhand high court at Nainital. This provided Banerjee brief respite from a possible contempt notice.