In Bengal, court orders dominate politics

The Calcutta High Court has become a ground for political muscle-flexing

Updated - June 01, 2023 01:44 am IST

Published - June 01, 2023 12:15 am IST

Calcutta High Court. File

Calcutta High Court. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Matters pertaining to the West Bengal recruitment scam are keeping the Calcutta High Court busy even during summer vacation. On May 22, a Vacation Bench of the court declined to issue an interim stay on an investigation by central agencies into the alleged scam in the recruitment of employees to seven municipalities. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate had stumbled upon irregularities in recruitment by municipalities while investigating the alleged scam in school jobs in the State. Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay, who has been hearing the school recruitment case, had directed an investigation by the central agencies into recruitments to municipalities on April 21.

Ever since the Trinamool Congress came to power for its third consecutive term in 2021, the Calcutta High Court has been buzzing with matters that have dominated the political discourse of the State. From cases relating to the 2021 post-poll violence to the unrest at Bogtui village in March 2022 and the Ram Navami clashes in March-April 2023, the court’s judgments have had far-reaching implications on State politics.

In most of the cases dealing with political violence, killings and sexual assault, the court has ruled against the State government. It has often underlined the necessity for an investigation by central agencies or a special investigation team set up by the court, to restore the people’s faith.

The setbacks to the State government have often triggered run-ins with the judiciary. Ruling party spokespersons have targeted the court, particularly Justice Gangopadhyay. Last September, Justice Gangopadhyay said in an interview to a Bengali news channel that he was determined to root out the corruption that had surfaced in the school jobs case. Things took an ugly turn in March 2023 when posters against Justice Rajasekhar Mantha were put up on the court premises and near his residence. A three-judge Bench of the High Court is hearing a contempt petition on the issue. Justice Mantha gave several orders for CBI probes in cases relating to political violence, and had given protection to the Leader of the Opposition, Suvendu Adhikari, from coercive action by the West Bengal police.

While there can be debates around judgments, personal criticism of judges is a dangerous trend which can potentially interfere with the process of delivery of justice. In some instances, cases involving political violence and irregularities have taken a long time. Also, every court order is not a political setback or victory as political parties make it out to be. The Trinamool maintains political dominance in the State and the Opposition cannot match it on the ground.

The courts have played a crucial role in the politically volatile State since 2006. From the Singur land acquisition to Nandigram police firing to the massacre at Netai, the High Court has played an important role in the dispensation of justice. However, certain politically sensitive cases like the Saradha chit fund scam and the Narada sting videos assigned to central agencies at the behest of the court are still far from nearing their logical conclusion even after years of investigation. At present, there are other cases in the alleged recruitment scam, apart from those relating to the violence at Kaliaganj and the death of 11 people due to a blast at an illegal firecracker factory at Purba Medinipur.

The long-drawn court battles with political significance have taken a different turn over the past two years as the battle between the Trinamool and a surging BJP is being increasingly fought in courtrooms. As a result, the orders and judgments of the High Court have dominated the political discourse in the State.

While issuing a stay on the termination of jobs of about 32,000 primary teachers in state-run schools, a division Bench of the High Court on May 19 observed, “It is trite that justice delayed is justice denied and, conversely, justice hurried is justice buried.” The Bench, while delivering the order, also observed that the termination of jobs, without extending a meaningful right of defence to the affected parties, prima facie requires judicial intervention.

As investigation picks up in the recruitment case, there will be several orders and judgments that can go either way in favour of the ruling dispensation or the Opposition. But what will be required is a fine balance between judicial activism and judicial restraint, apart from constructive criticism of judgments instead of personal targeting of judges.

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