At Suvendu vs Mamata hearing, Supreme Court has ‘a million-dollar question’

The Supreme Court asked Suvendu Adhikari if the entire high court of Calcutta, the designated court to hear Mamata Banerjee’s election plea, “is disqualified to hear this petition”.
Mamata Banerjee, who lost to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari from the Nandigram assembly segment in the West Bengal elections, approached the Calcutta high court with an election petition questioning her rival’s victory. Adhikari asked the Supreme Court to transfer this petition (File photo)
Mamata Banerjee, who lost to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari from the Nandigram assembly segment in the West Bengal elections, approached the Calcutta high court with an election petition questioning her rival’s victory. Adhikari asked the Supreme Court to transfer this petition (File photo)
Updated on Nov 16, 2021 11:10 AM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday had many questions for Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Suvendu Adhikari on his plea to transfer the election petition filed by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to any high court outside West Bengal on the ground that he will not get a fair hearing in the case.

Mamata Banerjee, who lost to Adhikari from the Nandigram assembly segment in the state polls held early this year approached the Calcutta high court with an election petition questioning her rival’s victory by a thin margin of 1,965 votes. Adhikari, the leader of opposition in West Bengal, moved the top court demanding the petition to be shifted outside the state to allow him a “fair trial”.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for Adhikari, said, “I cannot get a fair trial due to the events that have transpired outside the court of justice Kaushik Chanda who was first hearing the election petition. This amounts to subversion of justice.”

Adhikari, in his petition filed through advocate Surjendu Sankar Das, said, “The respondent’s position as the chief minister does not take away from the fact that she either instigates anarchy by her supporters and party workers or she does not have control over such persons who perpetrate lawlessness and anarchy as has been witnessed even inside the Calcutta high court premises during the hearing of the recusal application by justice Kausik Chanda.”

Jethmalani further pointed out that during the election process, Adhikari’s poll agents were attacked and there was an apprehension of a threat to the life and property of potential witnesses in the election petition.

A single-judge bench of justice Hima Kohli wondered if this could be a valid reason to seek transfer of a case.

“Can that be a ground to entertain a transfer petition when you haven’t made Election Commission a party? Casting aspersions on Election Commission in a suit where the there is a sole respondent (Mamata Banerjee) does not help you.” The poll panel was a party in the election petition filed by Banerjee.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Bengal chief minister, said the petition is a vote of no confidence against the entire institution of Calcutta high court based on an order of recusal by justice Chanda. He was referring to justice Chanda’s order by which he refused to hear the matter after Banerjee claimed that as chief minister, she refused her consent to make justice Chanda a permanent judge of the high court.

In his plea, Adhikari said he apprehended that the election petition “may not be fairly adjudicated in an unbiased manner” because Banerjee served as the chief minister of West Bengal since 2011, “and... therefore, a majority of the judges of the Calcutta high court would have either a favourable or unfavourable opinion of the respondent”.

“Are you saying the entire high court is disqualified to hear this petition? It is a designated court to hear the election petition. Why should this matter go to any other high court is a million-dollar question,” justice Kohli asked Jethmalani.

The judge also asked: “How do you define fair trial.”

Jethmalani sought to explain how fair trial in a case can be vitiated on these apprehensions and relied on a Supreme Court judgment, the details of which were not conveyed in advance to the court.

Jethmalani sought time to supply the copy of a judgment on this point and requested for a hearing on Tuesday. However, the bench posted it after two weeks. 

In July, justice Shampa Sarkar of the Calcutta high court issued notice on Banerjee’s election petition following recusal by justice Chanda. In August, when the matter was last heard, Adhikari got it adjourned on account of the transfer petition filed by him in the top court. The high court listed the petition for hearing later this month.

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Thursday, December 09, 2021