Calcutta, Dec. 4: Calcutta High Court today directed minister Becharam Manna to appear before it in person on December 18 to state why suo motu criminal contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him for comments on the judiciary.
A division bench of acting Chief Justice Pratap Kumar Roy and Justice Subal Baidya directed the editors of The Telegraph and three Bengali dailies to file newspaper clippings containing the report on Manna’s comment along with affidavits.
“The minister is directed to appear before this court sharp at 2pm on December 18 in person and clarify why a criminal contempt proceeding will not be initiated against him,” the division bench said.
The court order followed two separate applications, one by former state law minister Rabilal Moitra and another by former mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, that appealed to the court to initiate suo motu contempt proceedings against Manna for tarnishing the image of Calcutta High Court publicly.
Manna, the junior agriculture minister, had told a public meeting on December 2 that “Tata and the CPM got together and, with the help of judges loyal to them, defeated us in the Singur case”.
He had also said: “If the Supreme Court verdict goes against us, the people of Singur will descend on the fields and enact a new law.”
Bhattacharya, showing The Telegraph report before the court, said: “It is a clear case of contempt. Through this statement, the minister had maligned the judicial system and tarnished the image of the honourable judges of this court. The court should initiate suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against Becharam Manna.”
Moitra referred to the minister’s statement on the consequences if the Supreme Court verdict went against “us”. “Just imagine the outcome of such a statement from a minister. What did he want to say? Will they flout even a Supreme Court ruling?”
Justice Roy, the senior judge on the division bench, said: “This has become the practice of the political parties. Whichever party comes to power, it starts maligning the judiciary and the judges. In the Left Front regime, Justice Amitava Lala was maligned publicly for restricting rallies on weekdays.”
Bhattacharya, a CPM leader, replied: “But that time the party had criticised a court order. It never said that judgments could be bought against payment of money. Now what we are seeing is very serious. It is a direct attack on the judiciary and the judges.”
Advocate Arunava Ghosh later explained: “There are two types of contempt cases — civil and criminal. When one flouts a court order, a civil contempt case is initiated. But when a person tries to malign the judiciary and the judges, the court starts criminal contempt proceedings.”
If found guilty, punishment ranges from fine to jail.