Kishore Datta, Bengal’s 4th advocate general since 2011, resigns like the rest
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government appointed senior lawyer Gopal Mukherjee as the state’s top law officer on Tuesday. The move came hours after the government suffered a blow with incumbent Kishore Datta stepping down from the post citing personal reasons.
Datta is the fourth advocate general of the state to resign since 2011 when the Trinamool Congress first came to power.
Senior Calcutta high court advocate Gopal Mukherjee was appointed as the new AG by Governor Jagdeep Dhankar.
An eminent lawyer, Datta was appointed in February 2017 after his predecessor, Jayanta Mitra, stepped down following differences with the government over some important cases. Lakshmi Gupta, the additional AG, also announced his resignation on that day.
Appointed by the governor under Article 165 of the Constitution, the AG is the highest law officer of a state. The tenure of appointment is not defined by the Constitution.
In a letter sent to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Tuesday morning, Datta wrote, “I do hereby tender resignation as advocate general for the state of West Bengal, with immediate effect, owing to personal reasons. Please accept the same. It was a wonderful experience working for the state of West Bengal.”
A copy of the letter, which HT has seen, was sent to law minister Moloy Ghatak, who, incidentally, was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to its Delhi office on Tuesday for questioning in the coal smuggling case. The minister informed the ED that he would not be able to fly to Delhi at such short notice and volunteered to face its officers either in Kolkata or through video conference.
“The government was not happy with Datta as it suffered one blow after another at the Calcutta high court in recent months. The biggest blow came on June 18 when the court asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe the allegations of murder, rape and other crimes reported in the districts after the March-April state polls. Our lawyers could not convince the court that the NHRC report was biased. As a result, the court, on August 19, ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” a senior TMC leader told HT on condition of anonymity.
“The high court, while hearing a case, recently observed that counsels for the state were often found absent during hearings. This was an embarrassment,” the TMC leader added.
Datta avoided the media but members of the high court bar council and state officials said the process to find his successor has started.
The TMC government suffered another setback on September 1 when a special CBI court in Kolkata permitted the ED to send summons to ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC legislator Madan Mitra, former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee in the Narada case. The ED has charged them under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
These leaders were arrested by the CBI on May 17 in the Narada case and sent to judicial custody after the high court’s five-judge bench headed by acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal set aside a bail order passed by a special court.
The case pertains to a controversy that erupted ahead of the 2016 assembly elections after the Narada News portal uploaded a series of videos purportedly showing several high-profile TMC leaders receiving money in exchange for favours to a fictitious company.
Since 2014, the ED and the CBI are probing the operations of several chit fund companies such as Saradha, Rose Valley and I-Core. Several TMC leaders are named as accused in these cases. Industry minister Partha Chatterjee was questioned by the ED on Monday in the I-Core case.
Anindya Mitra was the first AG to resign after TMC came to power in 2011. His successor, Bimal Chatterjee, also resigned citing personal reasons. Jayanta Mitra was appointed towards the end of 2014.
Mitra’s resignation created a sensation in 2017 with many eminent lawyers accusing the government of putting legal experts under pressure for political reasons.
“Let the government go ahead with its policies. I am grateful to my colleagues and support team for letting me serve the people successfully,” Mitra said after putting in his papers. Manjit Singh, the chief public prosecutor, too, resigned in January 2017.
Critics pointed fingers at the government after Datta resigned.
“The post of the AG is a Constitutional position. The TMC government is corrupt. It does not want to follow any law. An AG cannot become part of political decisions. Datta at least served for a longer period than his predecessors,” former AG of Tripura and CPI-M Rajya Sabha member Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya told HT.
Bhattacharya is representing petitioners against the government in most of the important cases, including Saradha.
“We have heard from different sources that Datta was forced to resign. No lawyer, no matter how qualified he may be, can ensure the rulings that the TMC government expects from courts,” said Samik Bhattacharya, chief spokesperson of the Bengal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).