New Delhi: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday voiced her concerns that high courts taking up “politically-forced cases” were increasing their case-load, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the government West Bengal government said Banerjee, who was one of many chief ministers to attend a joint conference of chief minister and chief justices of high courts in Delhi Saturday morning at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, also highlighted judicial vacancies in her state’s high courts.
The conference — called Joint Conference of CMs of the States and Chief Justices of High Courts — was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Apart from Banerjee, non-NDA chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), Bhagwant Mann (Punjab) Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) were among those who attended the meeting.
At least five opposition chief ministers — Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Tamil Nadu’s M.K. Stalin, Telangana’s K. Chandrashekhar Rao, Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, and Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray — skipped the meeting. Also conspicuous in his absence was Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar who’s an ally of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
Although Gehlot was missing, Rajasthan Law Minister Shanti Dhariwal attended the meeting on his behalf.
According to the Prime Minister’s office, the purpose of the conference was for the executive and judiciary to come together to “create frameworks for simple and convenient delivery of justice”.
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‘Politically forced’ cases
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who recently had a showdown with the central government over fuel prices, was one of the first to appear for the meeting.
According to a source in the Bengal government, Banerjee wanted to know why courts were “increasingly taking up politically forced cases, sometimes suo motu”. She also highlighted the mass vacancies in the high courts. She also highlighted the mass vacancies in the high courts.
“The chief minister said that the Calcutta High Court and Jalpaiguri High Court are already functional in Bengal. There’s also a new one coming up in Rajarhat, but the issue of judges’ vacancies has not been addressed,” the source said. “Out of a list of about 30 vacant positions that the Bengal government submitted to the Centre, only two have been filled.”
The source said she was concerned about high courts hearing “politically forced cases, taken up suo motu in the name of public good”. “This is increasing the case load of courts, while cases of ordinary citizens are languishing for years,” the source quoted Banerjee as saying.
Banerjee’s remarks are significant given that the Calcutta High Court has taken suo motu cognizance of the Birbhum massacre — a case where nine people, mostly women and children, were burnt alive at Bogtui village in West Bengal’s Birbhum on 21 March after the murder of a Trinamool Congress leader in the village.
Although Banerjee had instituted a Special Investigation Team, the Calcutta High Court handed over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation on 22 April.
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Nitish Kumar’s absence
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United) is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, was missing because of “prior engagements”, sources in the Bihar government said.
A source in the Chief Minister’s Office however also conceded that through his absence, Kumar was trying to send the BJP a message.
“The Bihar Chief Minister is in Purnea where he’s inaugurating Bihar’s first ethanol factory. The event was planned over a month ago,” the source said. “However, he has been trying to send a message to the BJP and the central government so that may also be a reason.”
Nitish Kumar shares an uneasy relationship with the NDA, specifically the BJP. His JD (U) has been an ally of the BJP for the better part of the last 20 years — almost as long as his own tenure as the chief minister of the state. The alliance broke in 2013 when it was clear that Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Kumar, who won the trust vote in the house with the Congress party’s support, even allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — their chief rivals in Bihar — and the Congress for the 2015 assembly elections but went back to the BJP in 2017.
However, there have been signs of strains in the alliance, particularly since the last assembly elections in 2020, when the JD (U) was reduced to 43 (now up to 45) seats as against BJP’s 74 seats.
More recently, Kumar attended an iftar party that RJD leader Tejasvi Yadav threw. Yadav reciprocated by attending Kumar’s iftar party.
Sources in both M.K. Stalin’s and Ashok Gehlot’s offices said that although the chief ministers couldn’t attend the Saturday meeting because of “pre-scheduled obligations”, they had sent their representatives.
Indeed, all chief ministers who skipped the meeting had a minister from their cabinet as their representative.
“To make the infrastructure of courts in the state better, the state government has asked the centre to consider pending financial proposals of the Rajasthan High Court at the earliest,” Rajasthan Law Minister Shanti Dhariwal said in a statement after the meeting. “It is a 60-40 responsibility of the centre and the state to provide financial resources to courts in order to better their infrastructure.”
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is currently in the US for medical care and will return to India on 10 May, ThePrint has learnt.
Uddhav Thackeray also missed the conference for health reasons.
“He still has travel restrictions after he underwent a cervical surgery in November last year,” a source from the Shiv Sena — Thackeray’s party — told ThePrint. “He hasn’t travelled outside Mumbai since.”
ThePrint has reached out to Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s team for a response. This article will be updated if and when the response comes.
With inputs from Manasi Phadke, Dipak Misra and Anusha Ravi
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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