Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week..Of late, the Meghalaya High Court has kept State authorities on their toes with several verdicts and remarks coming from the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee. Known for being an outspoken judge, Chief Justice Banerjee has often called out the ineptness of authorities in matters involving larger public interest. .The week, in a wide range of suo motu cases, the Bench of the Chief Justice dealt with issues such as illegal coal mining in the State and also laid down an important precedent in a rape case..Who is Justice Banerjee?.Born on November 2, 1961, Justice Banerjee studied at St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta and St Paul’s School, Darjeeling. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Science with honours in Economics in 1983. He completed his LL.B. in 1986-87 at the University of Calcutta. After completing law, Justice Banerjee enrolled as an advocate on November 21, 1990 and essentially practised in the Calcutta High Court and Supreme Court of India, besides other High Courts and tribunals. His practice primarily involved matters of civil law, company law, arbitration and Constitutional law. In addition, he specialised in corporate and intellectual property law matters..Justice Banerjee was elevated to the Calcutta High Court as a permanent Judge on June 22, 2006, and delivered judgments in matters encompassing almost all branches of law, including public interest litigation.He was appointed as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court on January 4, 2021. Under controversial circumstances, he was transferred to the Meghalaya High Court as its Chief Justice on November 24, 2021..[BREAKING] SC Collegium recommends transfer of Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee to Meghalaya High Court .His transfer prompted widespread protests by lawyers and activists across country, who stated that the absence of a justification for the move hinted that the judge was being punished for some reason.On November 17, Chief Justice Banerjee penned a touching farewell note for his colleagues and members of the Bar. While opting out of an official farewell ceremony, he apologised to his companion judges for being unable to last the distance and leaving without saying goodbye in person.“My regret is that I could not completely demolish the feudal culture in which you serve," was Justice Banerjee’s powerful message to court staffers..Echoing his views in an article in The Hindu on Justice Banerjee's transfer, former Madras High Court judge, Justice (retired) K Chandru reiterated to Bar & Bench that there could not be an evaluation of the discharge of duties of any judge, for there was no reliable basis for making such an analysis. And in terms of disposal of matters and writing skill, no one could find fault with Justice Banerjee, Justice Chandru opined..Justice Chandru had, in the article, noted if there were other reasons, then such a transfer proposal cannot be termed as a routine matter, but as a punishment for some other reason. The judiciary cannot be weakened by frequent transfers without disclosing the real reasons for the same, the former judge had noted..Tamil Nadu Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram, recollected how as Chief Justice at Madras High Court, Chief Justice Banerjee disposed of cases during the sittings immediately on conclusion of hearings. “His language and the flow are superb. He is a lover of nature. His strong point is topography. Though coming from a different State, he understood Tamil Nadu, its districts and towns correctly without any difficulty, like the palm of his hand," shared Shunmugasundaram. The advocate general recounted how Chief Justice Banerjee traveled mostly by road and remembered the route very well. "During the hearing of an arbitration appeal relating to laying a new road, the Chief Justice asked me its location. When I replied he quickly responded by stating the topographical features of that particular area clearly. As a lover of nature he enjoys looking at the scenic back grounds,” he added..Once during a virtual hearing when Chief Justice Banerjee was seen consulting the other judge on the division bench, the arguing counsel stopped his arguments expecting queries from bench that may be raised after the consultation.“The Chief Justice told that they were just discussing about the beautiful greenery on the screen behind the arguing counsel and made that moment lighter,” remembered Shunmugasundaram..'A humble gentleman'.Government Pleader at the Calcutta High Court Anirban Ray described Justice Banerjee as being “stern and upright”, and someone who has a “gentle heart”.“Above all, a humble gentleman - that’s my thoughts about Justice Banerjee, an inspiration for me and many others,” he added..Advocate Debapriya Mukherjee, who appeared before Justice Banerjee at the Calcutta High Court, recollected how the judge would appreciate counsel who were well-prepared with the facts and law points of a case.“He gets into the pulse of a case within 30 seconds of the hearing. Before Justice Banerjee, it hardly made a difference if a battery of designated Senior Counsel appeared to oppose the case. If the case has merits, the party is on the right side of the law and is coming to court with clean hands, Justice Banerjee always made sure that justice is dispensed in such cases,” shared Mukherjee..Notable verdicts and remarks.Perhaps a highlight of his tenure at the Madras High Court was the oral critique of the Election Commission of India for purportedly failing to act against political parties flouting COVID-19 protocols during election season.“You are the only institution that is responsible for the situation today. No action against political parties taking rallies despite every order of the Court. Your election commission should be put up on murder charges probably,” Chief Justice Banerjee had remarked.."Election Commission should be put up on murder charges:" Madras High Court on ECI's failure to stop "abuse" of COVID norms in election rallies.In another interesting hearing, he suggested the use of “Sir” for lawyers addressing judges. When a lawyer addressed the Bench as “My Lordship”, the judge corrected him saying, “You can use...or 'sir', whatever is fine. But it’s either 'My Lord' or 'Your Lordship’.” He had also dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) that sought to restrain Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin from heading any advisory committee under the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 unless he took a pledge before a Hindu god in a Hindu temple in the presence of two witnesses.“This is a secular country and secularism implies tolerance for the other religion. This country also provides for freedom of expression to its citizens which in turn implies lending an ear to the other point of view,” the order said.."One Sunday, come with broomstick and bucket, I will also come and we will clean the High Court together.Justice Sanjib Banerjee.He had also asked the Madras High Court administration to examine measures to ensure that the green and clean atmosphere of the court campus is maintained at all times."One Sunday, come with broomstick and bucket, I will also come and we will clean the High Court together..." he had said while hearing a petition filed in 2017 which sought to make the court campus cleaner, more accessible, and litter-free.Earlier, in the same matter, he had invited suggestions to make the High Court campus more environment friendly and accessible for persons with disabilities..Following his appointment as Chief Justice of the Meghalaya High Court, the judge took suo motu cognisance in a number of matters. One prominent notice was on the issue of “rat-hole mining” after a newspaper article in The Shillong Times drew attention to the same.Rat-hole mining is a practice of excavation in Meghalaya where miners go through narrow horizontal tunnels about 150 metres dug against deep vertical shafts. While taking up the matter, CJ Banerjee had ordered,"It is imperative that the matter be immediately looked into ... [The Additional Advocate-General is] called upon by the Court to immediately communicate this order to the appropriate personnel. The matter requires immediate, serious attention.".Why is he in the Spotlight?.A Bench led by Chief Justice Banerjee this week held that the merely because a rape survivor did not experience pain and that she was wearing an undergarment when subjected to assault, was not proof of no penetration having taken place, entitling the accused to be acquitted..In another verdict, his Bench said that the Value Added Tax (VAT) exemption granted to bread in the State cannot be extended to rusk as rusk is different from bread..In a suo motu PIL, the judge was critical of authorities when it came to maintaining cleanliness in the State.“What appears from the State’s report is that after several rounds of beverages some pious wishes were put down on paper, without any of the measures being actually implemented on the ground,” the order read..In a case where the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal was stated to have not referred to the applicability of the several Supreme Court cases that were cited, the Bench of the Chief Justice said.“The judgments cited cannot be ignored, particularly if such judgments are binding on the relevant forum."The order further noted, “If the dictum in a Supreme Court judgment is applicable to the facts of a case in the milieu of the law that is relevant for the purpose, it is binding; and, whether or not any authority or adjudicating forum may agree with such dictum, it has to be applied.".With inputs from Abhimanyu Hazarika.