By Rajat Roy
The Calcutta High Court has admitted a plea of contempt against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While admitting the plea today, the court asked four media houses, whose reports and video clippings were submitted along with the plea, to file affidavits confirming the authenticity of their reportage of the chief minister’s recent speech in which she spoke on corruption in the judiciary. The court gave the media houses three weeks to submit their affidavits.
However, the defiant chief minister today said she would stand by what she had said. “I will say this a thousand times. I spoke about value-based judiciary. What is the harm? When the court gives the order, I will face it,” she said.
On Tuesday, at a seminar at the West Bengal legislative assembly chambers, Banerjee had said, “At times, favourable verdicts are given in return for money. There are instances when judgments have been purchased. I know there can be a case against me for saying this. But I am ready to go to jail for saying this.”
Today, senior advocate Bikash Bhattacharjee, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and former mayor of Kolkata Corporation, brought the chief minister’s speech to the notice of the court. He submitted newspaper clippings and video clips of the chief minister’s speech before judges Kalyanjyoti Sengupta and Ashim Kumar Mondal.
Sources close to the chief minister said the provocation for Banerjee criticising the judiciary was a recommendation by the state Human Rights Commission. Headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ashok Ganguly, the commission recently held the state’s police administration guilty and stated Rs 50,000 each be given to Ambarish Mahapatra of Jadavpur University and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta for their unlawful detention on charges of circulating a cartoon against the chief minister. The commission said such action could lead to gagging of democracy.
Earlier, Banerjee had made her ire known when, without naming Ganguly, she had said, “He has no idea. He is writing orders as if he is the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the President of India.”
Earlier, Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India and a former judge in the Supreme Court, had recently criticised Banerjee for arresting Shiladitya Chowdhury, a poor peasant who, at a public rally, had asked the chief minister, “Why are you making false promises?” Katju had also claimed Banerjee had ordered the police to arrest him, calling him a Maoist who had come to disturb her public meeting. The hapless peasant was detained by the police, before being released.
Today, state Congress leaders also joined the issue, submitting a plea for contempt before the court. However, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid tried to play it down. He said the chief minister did not intend to tarnish the image of the judiciary. Instead, “she must have tried to strengthen the judiciary,” said Khurshid.