Abhijit Gangopadhyay: a judge who follows his own style in justice delivery

In a special sitting convened quickly at 8 p.m. on April 28, the Supreme Court stayed Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay’s order.

April 29, 2023 01:51 pm | Updated 05:50 pm IST - Kolkata

Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay leaving the premises of Calcutta High Court on April 28, 2023, after the Supreme Court stayed his order. The Supreme Court had assigned cases relating to the West Bengal school job scam to a different bench.

Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay leaving the premises of Calcutta High Court on April 28, 2023, after the Supreme Court stayed his order. The Supreme Court had assigned cases relating to the West Bengal school job scam to a different bench. | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

“My hands are being tied again and again,” Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court had appealed to the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court about a year ago when judgments passed by him in the West Bengal school jobs scam were stayed by the division bench of the Calcutta High Court.

In a written administrative directive, Justice Gangopadhyay made a startling revelation that a lawyer had come to him to speak on behalf of an influential politician in all of these cases. What followed was that five different division benches of the Calcutta High Court recused themselves from hearing petitions challenging Justice Gangopadhyay’s order in the school jobs scam.

Also read: A judge at the centre of political debate in Bengal

On the late evening of April 28, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed Justice Gangopadhyay’s order to place before him, by midnight, documents based on which the apex court had earlier in the day reassigned a case to itself. The case concerns the school jobs-for-bribe scame which is being investigated by the CBI and ED. With the role of Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee also under the scanner in the case, Mr. Banerjee recently moved the Supreme Court, pointing its attention to a TV interview of Justice Gangopadhyay in which he spoke about the case pending before him. On Friday, the CJI Bench went through the transcript and directed the Calcutta High Court Chief Justice to transfer the case from Justice Gangopadhyay to another judge.

 Justice Gangopadhyay (was a lawyer at Calcutta High Court before he was appointed as Additional Judge in May 2018 and elevated as a permanent Judge of the Calcutta High Court in July 2020. A graduate from Calcutta University’s Hazra Law College, he did his schooling from Kolkata’s Mitra Institution.

As an advocate he was well-known among his peers for handling briefs related to education, particularly the West Bengal School Service Commission, the recruitment agency that is at the centre of the controversy in the school jobs scam.

As the Judge of Calcutta High Court, 61-year-old-Justice Gangopadhyay had directed investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in over a dozen of cases relating to the school jobs scam. In several of his judgments, Justice Gangopadhyay had directed investigating agencies to file FIRs by the end of the day and question the accused including Ministers or chairpersons of a board or recruitment body by midnight.  Not only did he order investigation by central agencies in the scam, he often questioned the tardy pace of investigation and impressed upon the agencies to apprehend the “real culprits” in the recruitment scam. 

Several orders of Justice Gangopadhyay have resulted in arrest of key political administrative officials, including three MLAs of Trinamool Congress including a former Minister, over a dozen officials and agents involved in the recruitment scam. Over 4,000 appointments that were made illegally have been set aside by him and the State government has been forced to come out with a list of the actual marks and manipulated marks of candidates who participated in different recruitment processes between 2014 and 2020. 

 While leaving the premises of the Calcutta High Court on April 28, Justice Gangopadhyay did not shy away from questions by journalists and said that the work he did in six months may have taken 60 years.

“Each person has a different style of functioning; I have worked in my style. The next Justice who will be assigned the case will have his own style. The work that I did in six months, if they take 60 years also I have nothing to say. I finally want to say, long live the Supreme Court,” Justice Gangopadhyay said.

 It was not only the judgments of Justice Gangopadhyay that made headlines but sometimes his comments on politicians too. Participating at an event in January 2023, Justice Gangopadhyay made a reference to poems written by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and said that it was high time libraries stopped publicising such content. A few months ago, in August 2022, there were noisy scenes in his courtroom when senior lawyers objected to journalists being invited to the judge’s chamber.

 The State’s ruling Trinamool Congress leadership have on a number of occasions publicly targeted Justice Gangopadhyay and alleged that he was projecting himself as “Aranyadeb”, a Bengali superhero. After cases relating to the jobs scam were assigned to a different bench, Trinamool leaders took to social media expressing happiness, referring to Justice Gangopadhyay as “comrade” and urging him to join politics.

The political parties in the Opposition, both Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have called the developments leading to the cases in the school jobs scam being shifted to a different bench as “unfortunate”.

Justice Gangopadhyay is not only popular in political circles, recently posters hailing his Bengali pride were put up by citizen’s associations in different parts of Kolkata. The job aspirants protesting against the recruitment scam for years now have also put up posters in his support.

On Friday, Justice Gangopadhyay said he would not resign from his post. During his interview with a Bengali television channel in September 2022, which was taken note of by the Supreme Court, Justice Gangopadhyay had said that he wanted to be remembered for his judgments. “I want to  pass a few judgments which, long after I am gone, will come up before a researcher who will realise that there was a judge who did these,” he had said.

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