Five-judge Supreme Court Bench to sit on January 27 to suo motu hear conflict between Calcutta High Court judges

Controversy erupted over Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay pronouncing a judicial order accusing his colleague Justice Soumen Sen of “acting” in favour of a political party in West Bengal

January 26, 2024 09:22 pm | Updated 09:44 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

 Calcutta High Court judge Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay (in picture) said his colleague Justice Soumen Sen’s orders need a “relook” by the Supreme Court “if it thinks so”. File

 Calcutta High Court judge Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay (in picture) said his colleague Justice Soumen Sen’s orders need a “relook” by the Supreme Court “if it thinks so”. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

A Bench of five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday scheduled a special sitting on Saturday (January 27) to suo motu hear a controversy over sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, pronouncing a judicial order accusing his colleague of “acting” in favour of a political party in West Bengal.

Justice Gangopadhyay, sitting as a Single Judge Bench, has charged Justice Soumen Sen, who was heading a Division Bench of the High Court, of “acting clearly for some political party in this State” in a medical admissions case. Justice Gangopadhyay said his colleague’s orders need a “relook” by the Supreme Court “if it thinks so”. Justice Gangopadhyay had directed the Registrar General of the High Court to forward a copy of the order to the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court.

The train of events started on January 24 when Justice Gangopadhyay directed CBI inquiry on the basis of a petition alleging issuance of fake caste certificates to gain medical admissions in the State. The judge had slammed the West Bengal Police and the State government.

The next day saw Advocate General Kishore Datta mention the case before the Division Bench of Justices Sen and Uday Kumar, saying the petitioner had not even sought a transfer of the case to the CBI. Mr. Datta said the State was not given an opportunity to explain the steps taken by the police in the medical admission case. The Division Bench had stayed the order of the Single Judge Bench to hand over the investigation to the CBI.

Scathing remarks

In a consequent order, Justice Gangopadhyay passed scathing remarks against Justice Sen while countermanding the stay order by the Division Bench.

“By passing an order without the impugned order and without the memorandum of appeal, the Division Bench has given a very wrong signal that without the order and memorandum of appeal, an appeal can be heard and order can be passed… What was so urgent? Who is acting as an interested person for one of the political parties in the State?” Justice Gangopadhyay had observed in his order.

The special Saturday hearing in the Supreme Court on the suo motu case titled ‘In Re: Orders of Calcutta High Court dated 24.01.2024 and 25.01.2024 and ancillary issues’ would be by a Bench, besides the Chief Justice of India, comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose. The five judges are also members of the Supreme Court Collegium.

This is not the first time Justice Gangopadhyay has courted controversy. In April last year, events triggered by Justice Gangopadhyay in the sensational and politically sensitive West Bengal school job-for-bribe scam case had led to a similar out-of-turn Special Bench hearing at 8 p.m.

Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee had moved the apex court against a TV interview given by Justice Gangopadhyay in which he made comments about the case when it was sub judice before him.

The Supreme Court had, after going through the transcript of the interview, ordered the case to be transferred from Justice Gangopadhyay.

In a rather unusual turn of events, Justice Gangopadhyay subsequently passed an order directing the Secretary General of the Supreme Court to place before him by midnight the records which were placed before the Supreme Court leading to the re-assignment of the case from him.

A Special Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice A.S. Bopanna had quickly convened the same night, just hours before the midnight deadline, to stay Justice Gangopadhyay’s order. But the apex court, at the time, had held its hand, going no further, observing that “no further proceedings in the matter is required.”

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