The Calcutta High Court on Thursday directed two English dailies including The Hindu and two local television channels to file their affidavits on the authenticity of the news item they carried on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s August 14 remarks on corruption in the judiciary.
This was in response to a plea by a group of lawyers praying for criminal contempt proceedings against her. A Division Bench of Justices Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta and Asim Kumar Mondal went through the reports of the newspapers and CDs presented by the lawyers.
“The court has taken suo motu cognisance of the matter and asked the editors of the newspapers and the news channels to file an affidavit within three weeks stating whether or not the reports were correct,” said Bikash Bhattacharya, one of the advocates who raised the issue before the court.
The matter would be taken up for hearing again after four weeks.
Mr. Bhattacharya argued that Ms. Banerjee made her remarks at a seminar, for which the Legislative Assembly was only a venue. Thus, her comments did not enjoy the immunity that legislative discussions do have under Article 211 of the Constitution.
He told journalists that the comments were “derogatory, scandalous and have the tendency to interfere with justice.”
Speaking at the seminar on Executive Accountability to Parliament/Legislature, Ms. Banerjee had said: “Why will judgments be given only in favour of those who offer money? I am sorry to say this; people can condemn me for this. I can be arrested and put in jail for this, but somewhere I will have to express my opinion.”
Earlier in the day, a public interest litigation petition on the same issue was moved by a separate group of lawyers before another Bench of Chief Justice J.N. Patel and Justice Jaymalya Bagchi.
“The court allowed us to file the litigation and it will come up for hearing on Friday. It asked us to submit proof of her statements and said it will examine it in its administrative capacity,” said advocate Subrata Mukherjee.
Mr. Mukherjee said the remarks made by Ms. Banerjee, who holds a constitutional post, sent out a wrong message to not only the Bar and the Bench but also litigants.