Circuit bench is new flashpoint in relations between Mamata, Modi
The Mamata Banerjee government has “condemned” an alleged “effort” by the Centre to inaugurate Calcutta High Court’s circuit bench in Jalpaiguri “unilaterally” during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the district on Friday, claiming that it was spending crores on infrastructure and that it had been intimated of the plan at the eleventh hour without being invited.
“We condemn the effort…. We knew the Prime Minister was coming for a political meeting. If he inaugurates the circuit bench without involving the state, we will protest,” said Bengal law minister Malay Ghatak, apparently mandated by the chief minister to speak to the media on the issue.
Nabanna received the Prime Minister’s itinerary on Wednesday.
“The minute-by-minute tour programme of the Prime Minister mentions the (proposed) inauguration of some projects such as a stretch of a national highway in Jalpaiguri district and the circuit bench. As the Union cabinet gave its approval for the inauguration of the circuit bench on Wednesday, the ruling establishment in Bengal apprehends that the facility could be thrown open unilaterally by the Prime Minister to reap political dividends,” a senior state government official said.
Officials said the Bengal government had spent Rs 46 crore to set up the temporary infrastructure of the circuit bench and allotted another Rs 375 crore for building permanent infrastructure, and that it would be “unethical” if the Centre planned to inaugurate the facility unilaterally.
Another official explained how the circuit bench had come up.
“Three steps are required to set up a circuit bench of the high court. First, building the infrastructure, which was done by the state government though it is on the Concurrent List. Second, engagement of judges, which is the Centre’s responsibility. The third step is to appoint other employees, which will be done by the state government. As the major work, which is setting up the infrastructure, was done by the state, it will be unethical if the Prime Minister inaugurates the circuit bench without involving the state,” the official said.
Sources said the Bengal government had written to the Prime Minister’s Office registering its reservations about the “attempt” to unilaterally inaugurate the circuit bench on Friday.
Minister Ghatak said the state government had earlier written to Delhi seeking permission to inaugurate the bench after readying the temporary infrastructure four months ago.
“But at that time, we were told that it would take some time as the Union cabinet’s approval and the President’s assent would be needed to inaugurate the circuit bench. We were waiting for the approval, but it now appears that the Centre is playing a dirty political game,” Ghatak said.
The President issued the notification for the bench on Thursday evening.
Nabanna sources said the Bengal government had made it clear in the first letter sent on Thursday that it wanted to inaugurate the facility by inviting the Chief Justice of India.
The issue caused a flutter at the inaugural session of the two-day Bengal Global Business Summit as chief secretary Malay De informed Mamata about the development when the programme was on.
A visibly annoyed Mamata was seen discussing something with the chief secretary and home secretary Atri Bhattacharya in a corner of the dais.