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Law officer quits, police officer shifted - Mitra leaves amid talk of sniping

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  • Published 9.02.13
Mitra and Chatterjee

Calcutta, Feb. 8: Anindya Mitra, a renowned lawyer and one of the first proven professionals to be roped in by the new government, has resigned as advocate-general of Bengal.

This is the first time in the state that an advocate-general — usually appointed for five years, co-terminus with the government — has resigned mid-way.

The government accepted the resignation and appointed Bimal Chatterjee as the top law officer of the state. The acceptance and appointment with alacrity was an indication that the government was preparing the ground for a new advocate-general.

“As he urged the state to accept his resignation with immediate effect, the chief minister decided to relieve him from his responsibilities at the earliest,” Chandrima Bhattacharya, minister of state for law, said.

But a high court source said: “There have been some undercurrents between the AG and some senior members of the government’s legal team.”

According to him, a combination of factors may have prompted Mitra to resign, but the immediate trigger could have been two incidents in the high court yesterday.

“The advocate-general reached the courtrooms late during the hearing of two cases, one on the GTA (the council that runs the Darjeeling hills) and the other on the pay structure of high court employees. On both occasions, the judges criticised him for being late and also asked him whether he was not getting information from his team,” said the source.

The source added that Mitra was kept in the dark on several issues. Mitra was not available for comment.

Several lawyers and government officials said the change was in line with a shuffle in the government’s legal team that started with the replacement of Malay Ghatak with Chandrima Bhattacharya as law minister in October 2012.

Public prosecutor Debasish Roy resigned in December following differences with other members in the government’s legal team, an official said.

“A very senior functionary not directly associated with the government is behind all these changes…” said a senior member of the Trinamul Lawyers’ Cell.

That all’s not well in the government legal cell became apparent two weeks ago when Kalyan Banerjee, MP from Serampore, informed the chief minister of his unwillingness to take government briefs anymore. While he cited professional reasons, sources said that Banerjee opted out following differences with other members of the cell.

It is believed that Banerjee played a key role in convincing Mitra to take up the position of advocate-general. The appointment had drawn applause as it had sent signals that the new government was giving preference to merit.

The sources said the relationship between the advocate-general and the state government suffered its first jolt after the Singur land act was struck down by Calcutta High Court. An appeal is pending in the Supreme Court now.

“Some powerful ministers had asked then why Mitra did not recommend that the act be sent for the President’s assent, an omission that proved costly,” said an official. But other officials had said the government’s undue haste was behind the fiasco.

Mitra, a soft-spoken lawyer who specialises in corporate affairs and has an enviable client list, was often a calming presence during the Singur hearing. He never joined in when some lawyers made boisterous claims and tried to browbeat opponents.

Mitra had reportedly offered to resign after questions were raised on the Singur verdict. But the government pacified him as it wanted to project a united face. “Mitra took ill after this and he could not help the state in another sensitive case — the co-operative society case — which the state government lost,” a source said.

According to him, a senior government lawyer held Mitra responsible for the losses. “He (Mitra) had reservations about some of the government empanelled lawyers,” the source said.