The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered that the four Trinamool Congress leaders, who were arrested in connection with the Narada bribery case, will be kept under house arrest instead of in jail, reported Live Law. It also ordered that the case will be heard by a larger bench to decide on their interim bail plea.
The division bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee was hearing the case concerning the arrest of TMC leaders Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee. The decision to refer the matter to a three-member bench came as Justice Bindal ordered house arrest but Justice Banerjee granted interim bail.
“One of the members of the bench thought it fit to grant interim bail,” said Justice Banerjee, according to NDTV. “The other member did not agree. So this point of interim bail has to be considered by the larger bench. In the meantime, considering pandemic situation, house arrest given.”
The court allowed the leaders to access files and meet officials but only through video conferencing during their house arrest period. “Whatever work they are doing for public, let it continue,” said the bench.
Both the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ruling TMC opposed the house arrest order.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, asked the court to stay its order and direct that the four leaders to remain in custody. He added that as persons with influence, they could threaten witnesses.
Senior advocates Abhishek Singhvi and Sidharth Luthra, representing the four TMC leaders, demanded interim bail and asked that the larger bench be constituted as early as Friday. “House arrest is no less than arrest,” Singhvi said, according to NDTV. “They should be released. Interim situation should be freedom. These are ministers, MLAs... There is no possibility of flight risk. There has been no slightest allegation of them not cooperating with investigation.”
The CBI had arrested the four leaders on May 17. However, they were granted interim bail by a Special CBI Court. But, this bail order was stayed by the High Court in a late night hearing the same day.
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, Suvendu 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 have not arrested Adhikari or 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 had said sarcastically.
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.