In a late night hearing on Monday, the Calcutta High Court stayed the bail order granted to West Bengal ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former TMC leader Sovan Chatterjee in the Narada bribery case, Live Law reported.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajnish Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee passed the order after the Central Bureau of Investigation challenged the bail granted by a special Central Bureau of Investigation court merely hours earlier. The CBI also sought a transfer of the trial.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, who represented the CBI, said that West Bengal Law Minister Moloy Ghatak went to the lower court with 2,000 to 3,000 supporters and stayed there through Monday’s trial. The CBI added that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee protested outside the CBI office in Kolkata with her supporters.
“It is a case in which there is total failure of rule of law,” Mehta said, adding that the chief minister, law minister and other senior ministers were obstructing the CBI from carrying out its duties. The accused had to be produced virtually in the special CBI court because the protestors did not move, the CBI added, according to PTI.
The court took note of the “extraordinary situation” and said that if an order is passed by the court under such circumstances, it “will not have faith and confidence of the people in the system of administration of justice”, according to Live Law.
The court added:
“Confidence of the people in the justice system will be eroded in case such types of incidents are allowed to happen in the matters where political leaders are arrested and are to be produced in the court.
People may have a feeling that it is not rule of law which prevails but it is a mob which has an upper hand and especially in a case where it is led by the Chief Minister of the State in the office of CBI and by the Law Minister of the State in the Court Complex.”— Calcutta HC | (Source: Live Law)
On Mehta’s accusation that the state ministers were obstructing justice, West Bengal Advocate General Kishore Dutta said that the police provided full protection to the CBI officials for doing their duty. Dutta submitted that the CBI has not filed an official complaint with the police about any incident.
Arguing against the transfer of the case, the advocate general said that the investigating agency has also not filed an application for transfer under Section 407 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The section pertains to the power of the High Courts to transfer cases.
The High Court, however, said the situation in the trial court, as mentioned by the solicitor general, was enough to take cognisance of the matter for transfer of the trial.
The High Court will take up the matter for hearing on Wednesday. Till then, the four senior leaders must remain in judicial custody. They were taken to the Presidency Correctional Home in Kolkata around 1.20 am on Tuesday, according to The Times of India.
The CBI also filed a caveat in the Supreme Court on Tuesday as the four arrested politicians in West Bengal appealed for bail in the High Court, reported NDTV. The investigating agency asked the Supreme Court to ensure that no orders were passed on the bail appeals before the court heard them.
Later around 4 am, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee were shifted to a hospital after they complained of breathlessness, reported NDTV. Subrata Mukherjee was also taken to the hospital for a brief period of time but later shifted back to the prison.
The CBI arrested Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee early on Monday morning. Chatterjee had quit the Trinamool Congress in 2019 to join Bharatiya Janata Party, but left the saffron party too, in March. He did not contest the elections this year.
The CBI was waiting for Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s approval to prosecute four politicians – BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, Trinamool Congress leaders Saugata Roy, Prasun Banerjee and Kakali Ghosh Dastidar, reported PTI, citing an official of the agency.
“We are yet to get a sanction in the matter,” the official said, amid criticism on delayed arrests of BJP leaders.
Shortly after the arrests on Monday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other Trinamool Congress leaders reached the CBI’s office. Roads were blocked and tyres were burnt as Trinamool Congress supporters caused a ruckus outside the CBI office in Kolkata. Banerjee had also asked the CBI to arrest her as her ministers were held without due procedure.
The bribery case
The bribery case involves videos published by Narada News, in which several Trinamool Congress leaders were allegedly seen accepting cash in return for favours. The videos, shot by the website’s Chief Executive Mathew Samuel, were released ahead of the state Assembly elections in 2016. Mamata Banerjee has alleged that the sting operation was a conspiracy hatched against her government and party members before the elections. In June 2017, she ordered a police inquiry into the case.
Seven of the then Trinamool Congress MPs were also involved in the scam. Of them, Adhikari and Mukul Roy switched sides to the BJP. One of the accused, former Trinamool Congress politician Sultan Ahmed died in 2017.
Notably, the CBI on Monday did not arrest Adhikari or Mukul Roy. Madan Mitra had on Monday asked why there was no action against Adhikari and Roy. “We all are bad men but not Mukul and Suvendu,” Mitra said.
The CBI has sought to prosecute MPs Sougata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Prasun Banerjee and Aparupa Poddar also but Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has not granted the permission yet.
A day before the new West Bengal Cabinet member’s swearing-in ceremony on May 10, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had approved a CBI inquiry against Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee.