The political battle in West Bengal between the Trinamool Congress and the BJP cast a rare and ominous shadow over the judiciary on Monday, with state-empanelled lawyers at the Calcutta High Court telling Justice Samapti Chattopadhyay that they will not attend her court.
The lawyers are reportedly unhappy about her "political observations" while hearing key cases on civic bodies in the state. Advocate General Kishore Dutta was asked to inform the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court about the decision.
As news of the development spread, over 100 lawyers of the Calcutta High Court condemned the decision in a letter to the Chief Justice. State lawyers should not be allowed to put pressure on the judiciary, they were reported to have said.
Soon after Justice Chattopadhyay entered the courtroom, Additional Government Pleader Bhaskar Baishya told her that state-empanelled lawyers have decided against attending her court. "Given the way the judge heckles government lawyers while hearing cases, it is not possible for us to attend her court," Baishya - also the chairman of the Trinamool Lawyers' Cell - told news agency PTI outside the courtroom.
An indignant Justice Chattopadhyay asked if the state-empanelled lawyers were suggesting that she was not doing justice to her position. "Determination (assignment of cases) is given to me by the Chief Justice and not by government lawyers. Respect the chair," she said.
Opposition parties also slammed the state lawyers' decision. "The whole country can see how democracy and the judiciary are being destroyed in Bengal," said BJP leader Jaidip Majumdar.
"The government entering into a confrontation with a constitutional body is a sign of bad intentions," said Bikash Bhattacharya, lawyer and CPM leader.
Justice Chattopadhyay had made some caustic comments against the West Bengal government last week over conducting confidence votes in some civic bodies. Among them was the Gangarampur Municipality in South Dinajpur district. A no-trust called tomorrow was put off to August 5 by Justice Chattopadhyay. The no-trust motion will now be held in the presence of the police.
The judge has decided to hear the case related to Bongaon municipality, which witnessed clashes between police and BJP workers, again on Tuesday.
Last week, Justice Chattopadhyay had an altercation with Kalyan Bandopadhyay - senior counsel and Trinamool Congress lawmaker - when the Bongaon Municipality case was mentioned in her court. During a hearing on Friday, she asked the civic body's Trinamool Congress chairman why he was holding on to his chair when a majority of the councillors did not want him to continue.
Advocate General Kishore Dutta, who represented the West Bengal government in the Bongaon Municipality case during court hearings on July 17, was not present at Monday's hearing.
On July 19, Justice Chattopadhyay had stayed a meeting for holding a vote of confidence against the chairman of Halisahar Municipality on a plea by a councillor that the provision was being misused by the Trinamool Congress' head of the civic body to get protection.
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