Calcutta HC judge criticises acting chief over case transfer ‘modus operandi’
A Calcutta high court judge on Monday criticised acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal and the court administration over “whimsical modus operandi” after a case the former was hearing was “suddenly” transferred to a division bench even as it did not have the jurisdiction to take up the matter. In his 10-page order, justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya noted “chutzpah is probably not appreciated in the higher echelons of power” and added that “opacity creates whispers in the corridors and is not healthy for a judicial system”. He said that “do not wash your dirty linen in public” is a nice defence for the “beneficiaries of an oppressive/corrupt system” but it is an anathema to “transparency, which is in-built in the concept of the judiciary being the last bastion of democracy”.
The case was transferred days after Bhattacharyya on Friday directed the central project coordinator in charge of the virtual hearing to explain why technical glitches have become a regular feature. He asked why proceedings should not be drawn up against the court administration, including the registrar general and the central project coordinator, in particular, for criminal contempt of court. “I categorically refuse to be a part of such circus because I have taken an oath to deliver justice to the litigants, who are outside the courtrooms and beyond the reaches of the air-conditioned rooms accommodating the Judges and toiling in the sun and the dust outside,” he said in his July 16 order. “I personally feel guilty, as a part of this court, since disruption and interference in the functioning of courts, in whatever form, might amount to criminal contempt. I am a party to such an act as a part of the showcase of Judges who are adorning this court, including the Chief Justice.”
Bhattacharyya on Monday said at no point of time was he ever contacted to seek either his consent or shown the courtesy of informing him about the transfer. “I have serious doubts about the transparency of the system of dispensation of justice in our court in view of the... chain of events. Hence, I feel it my duty to inform all the beneficiaries and victims of such translucence in the system...,” he said.
“I was amazed when my officer...intimated me that the RG (registrar general) had been directed to call for the records, to be allocated before a division bench, despite my judicial order dated July 16, 2021, on the instruction of the Hon’ble the Acting Chief Justice of this court. A copy of the letter, allegedly written and signed by the Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice, who was not even present in Kolkata due to a personal bereavement in the family, was also sent via WhatsApp and forwarded to me,” he said. He added in his previous order on July 16, he made “certain caustic comments” against the court administration including the registrar general”.
Bhattacharyya underlined the chief justice (including acting chief justice) is the “Master of the Roster” and “more equal among equals”. He added the “equality pertains only to the Administrative Side of this court and cannot override the Appellate Side Rules, framed and modified by the Full Court comprised of all Judges of this Hon’ble Court”.
“There is doubt as to whether the Chief Justice/Acting Chief Justice, in her/his administrative capacity as the Master of the Roster, can override a judicial order passed by a Bench having determination, fixed by the Chief 4 Justice/Acting Chief Justice herself/himself, and the file of the matter be assigned to some other court overnight,” said Bhattacharyya in the order uploaded on the court’s website late on Monday.
He said the Appellate Side Rules of the court clearly provide that these matters “are to be heard by single judges, coupled with the fact...that this court had determination on both the relevant dates to take up such matters”. Bhattacharyya added the “Master of Roster‟ concept cannot be equated with the “Master of all I survey”, even as per the Supreme Court’s interpretation. “As per my instruction, my ACO (assistant court officer) indicated to the registrar general (RG), that she should not have the audacity or the gall to dictate as to what matter shall be allocated to each Bench, particularly in the teeth of a judicial order dated July 16...”
He cited the restricted hearings to virtual appearances and added access to justice is being denied to most litigants and advocates from distant places, who are technically and financially challenged. “A coterie of members of the Bar and a limited few of the litigants are having an undue monopoly by running the virtual show, thereby depriving the common citizen of access to justice before this court, which is included in their right to life and equality before the law as guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that the uploading of this order will, at least, not be prevented by the powers-that-be, so that the contents of the order may appear in the public domain.’