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Judge recuses himself in Bengal case
- Announcement after exchange with govt pleader on photograph featuring Mamata

Calcutta, June 13: Justice Dipankar Datta of Calcutta High Court today recused himself from hearing a murder case that had rocked Bengal politics during the Lok Sabha elections.

The judge announced the decision after a brief exchange of words with the Bengal government pleader, Ashok Banerjee.

“I won’t hear this case during my professional career. I am releasing the matter from my court. Let any other judge of this court hear the case,” said Justice Datta.

The case deals with the murder of Sagar Ghosh, a resident of Birbhum’s Parui, who was shot dead last July by suspected Trinamul activists four days after district party chief Anubrata Mondal told cadres to burn down the houses of candidates contesting the panchayat polls as dissidents. Justice Datta had set up a special investigation team headed by director-general of police G.M.P. Reddy in February to probe the case.

The issue had burst back onto the political platform during the Lok Sabha polls as Mondal shared a dais with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the police did not act against him although his name figured in the FIR.

The next day — April 11 — the judge had said the director-general should appear in court and explain why no action was initiated against the accused. A division bench, headed by Chief Justice A.K. Mishra, stayed the order and the issue eventually reached the Supreme Court that said Justice Datta should not have made certain observations about the chief minister.

When the case came up for hearing this morning in Justice Datta’s court, pleader Ashok Banerjee was not present. Advocate Pranab Dutta was present on behalf of the state.

Justice Datta asked Pranab Dutta whether the advocate was present in the courtroom when the court issued the order on the DGP and made an observation on a picture showing Mamata sharing the dais with Mondal.

“Yes,” the advocate replied.

“Then read this part of the order, which the division bench had observed in the case. After that, I will ask you a few questions,” Justice Datta said.

When the advocate started reading the order, government pleader Ashok Banerjee entered the courtroom.

The judge asked Banerjee the same question. When Banerjee replied in the affirmative, the judge asked him to read the order, dated April 11, this year.

After Banerjee completed reading it, Justice Datta asked him: “Do you remember that the advocate appearing for Sagar Ghosh’s family had handed over a newspaper to me? There was a picture in the newspaper showing the chief minister sharing the dais with one of the accused in the murder case. Do you remember what you had then said?”

“I fail to recollect what I had said,” Banerjee replied.

“Then I am reminding you what you had said. You had said: ‘This is political compulsion.’ Can you remember now?”

Banerjee replied: “Maybe or may not be.”

The judge asked: “Why did you not object when I made some observations after seeing the newspaper? I will not hear the case. Let any other judge hear it. I won’t hear this case during my professional career. I am leaving the matter on personal grounds.”

The judge stood up but within a few seconds took his seat again.

Lawyers on both the sides (the petitioner and the government) repeatedly requested him to hear the case. But the judge stuck to his decision.

Ashok Banerjee said: “Please change your decision.”

Justice Datta replied: “If I were to hear the case, I would have again asked the DGP to come to my court and sought clarifications from him as to why he had failed to arrest the accused.”

Usually, when a judge recuses himself, the chief justice assigns the case to another judge.

Sagar’s son Hriday, a Trinamul rebel who had contested the panchayat polls as an Independent, had moved a petition in the high court in January, alleging that Birbhum police were not taking action against the accused.