Kolkata, August 18 (IANS) Known for courting controversies, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has again stirred the hornet's nest after saying that court judgments could be bought.
Speaking during the state assembly's platinum jubilee celebrations here Tuesday, Banerjee displayed her trademark indiscretion when she alleged that there were instances when court judgments have been "delivered for money" and there was "corruption in a section of judiciary".
All hell broke loose as political and legal fraternity minced no words in criticising the chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief, making statements that had a liberal sprinkling of words such as "unbecoming", "irresponsible", "contempt of court" and "intemperate language".
If Bharatiya Janata party leader Balbir Punj remarked, "It was unbecoming of a chief minister", former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hedge wished she had only been "more prudent".
Former solicitor general Soli Sorabjee went a step ahead, asking: "What about the cases she has won in court? Who paid the judges? Mamata?"
Amid all the brouhaha, an embarrassed central government sought to downplay its troublesome ally's faux pas when Congress leader and Law Minister Salman Khurshid said the remarks were probably intended "to protect the independence of the judiciary".
Feisty Banerjee said she might land up in a jail for her comments and a group of lawyers is making all efforts to make her words come true after filing contempt petitions in the Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court.
Hours after the petitions were filed, an unperturbed Banerjee not only defended her comments but also said that being a lawyer, she would argue her own case should the need arise.
"...I have talked about a valueless judiciary. If talking about our country's drawbacks is a crime, I am ready to commit it a thousand times," an animated Banerjee said in her defence.
She also attacked the media that had reported her remarks which subsequently formed the basis of the contempt petitions.
While Banerjee continues to draw flak from all quarters, there are some who believe she may have touched a raw nerve since the judiciary is not untouched by allegations of corruption.
The Rajya Sabha in August 2011 had overwhelmingly approved the impeachment motion against Calcutta High Court judge Soumitra Sen. He, however, resigned ahead of his impeachment motion in the Lok Sabha and saved the embarrassment of being the first ever Indian judge to be impeached on charges of financial embezzlement.
There have also been allegations of disproportionate assets and land acquisitions against former Karnataka chief justice P.D. Dinakaran.
The Supreme Court, while passing an order in a case, had dubbed the Allahabad High Court as "rotten".
Justice Markandey Katju, currently chairman of the Press Council of India, as an incumbent judge of the Supreme Court then, had said: " 'Something is rotten in the State of Denmark', said Shakespeare in Hamlet, and it can similarly be said something is rotten in the Allahabad High Court, as this case illustrates."
Meanwhile, there seems to be a cold war brewing between Mamata Banerjee and the State Human Rights Commission.
When the rights panel recommended that the state government pay Rs.50,000 each to Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor, and his neighbour who were arrested for circulating a mail lampooning the chief minister, Banerjee questioned the commission's jurisdiction and authority.
The commission has now ordered a probe into the arrest of Shiladitya Chowdhury, a marginal farmer whose only fault was that he at a public rally asked what the chief minister has done for farmers.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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