Supreme Court stays all proceedings before Calcutta HC in medical admissions case

The Bench issued notice to West Bengal, the CBI and the petitioner in the High Court, and has listed the judges’ spat for hearing on Jan 29

Updated - January 27, 2024 12:28 pm IST

Published - January 27, 2024 11:11 am IST - NEW DELHI

File picture of Calcutta High Court Judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who made personal comments against Justice Soumen Sen

File picture of Calcutta High Court Judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who made personal comments against Justice Soumen Sen | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

A five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, in a special sitting on Saturday, stayed all proceedings in the Calcutta High Court in a medical admissions case which led to a public conflict between two judges of the Calcutta High Court.

The Supreme Court has also stayed the implementation of the orders of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, sitting as a Single Judge Bench of the High Court, to transfer the case to the CBI.

The Bench issued notice to West Bengal, the CBI and the petitioner in the High Court. The State government has been allowed to separately file a special leave petition against the orders of Justice Gangopadhyay during the course of the day.

The Centre, in turn, has been permitted to circulate a note. Attorney General R. Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta have questioned the procedure followed by the High Court Division Bench headed by Justice Soumen Sen to stay Justice Gangopadhyay’s directions without even perusing a copy of latter’s judicial order, records of the case or the memorandum of appeal.

“[The Centre] is more concerned about the procedure of passing a stay order without seeing the appeal memo or order,” Mr. Mehta said.

“Sometimes, there are exceptional circumstances…” Chief Justice Chandrachud replied.

“How the Single Judge Bench (Justice Gangopadhyay) had passed the orders is also a matter of contention,” senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate Astha Sharma, for the West Bengal government, intervened.

The five-judge Bench told both the State government and the Centre that it would not want to make any primary facie comments at this point. It listed the case for hearing on January 29.

Personal comments

Justice Gangopadhyay had made personal comments in his judicial order against Justice Sen. He had accused Justice Sen of using his office to “act” in favour of the ruling dispensation in West Bengal.

The Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the spat on Friday and convened the sitting of its five senior most judges comprising, besides the Chief Justice, Justices Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose on January 27.

The train of events in Calcutta High Court had 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.

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

He had questioned the “urgency” with which Justice Sen’s Bench had stayed his order for a CBI investigation on an oral mentioning made by the State government.

“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.

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 pm.

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.

But, 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 AS Bopanna had quickly convened the same night to stay Justice Gangopadhyay’s order.

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