Justice Arindam Sinha, a sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court, has written to other judges including acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal expressing his displeasure at the handling of the Narada bribery case involving Trinamool Congress leaders, reported Bar and Bench.
“Our conduct is unbecoming of the majesty the High Court commands,” he said in the letter dated May 24. “We have been reduced to a mockery.”
Among other matters, Sinha raised objection to the manner in which a transfer plea filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the case was listed before a division bench of the Calcutta High Court as a writ petition. The investigating agency had filed the plea seeking to transfer the case outside of West Bengal.
The CBI had arrested West Bengal ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former party leader Sovan Chatterjee in connection with the case on May 17. They were granted interim bail by a special CBI Court later that day. But, this bail order was stayed by the High Court in a late night hearing the same day after the CBI challenged the earlier order. On the same day, the CBI also filed the transfer plea.
Citing Appellate Side Rules, Sinha contended that a motion seeking transfer of the case has to be heard by a single judge.
“However, the first division bench took up the matter treating it to be a writ petition,” Sinha wrote. “Even a writ petition under Article 228 of the Constitution should have gone to the single judge having determination.”
The judge also questioned the staying of interim bail on May 17.
“Whether the High Court exercising power in the matter of transfer of a criminal case at this stage on its own initiative could have passed the order of stay is the second question,” he said.
By “first division bench”, Sinha was referring to a bench of Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arindam Banerjee, which had stayed the bail on May 17. Later on May 21, the two-judge bench ordered house arrest of the four Trinamool Congress leaders as they were split on the question of granting interim bail to the accused. To resolve the matter, the bench referred the matter of the interim bail and the transfer of case to a five-judge bench. Notably on Friday, the five-judge bench granted interim bail to the four accused.
Sinha, however, opined that the formation of the larger bench too, was erroneous, suggesting that a third judge should have been consulted instead of forming a five-judge bench.
“When the judges on a division bench differ on any point or issue, the same is referred to a third learned judge for opinion,” Sinha said. Further, he requested all judges to “salvage the situation” by taking suitable steps, including convening of a “Full Court”. A Full Court involves a discussion of all judges of a court to arrive at a conclusion.
Sinha said such a measure was needed for “reaffirming sanctity of our rules and our unwritten code of conduct.”
Narada bribery case
The 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. West Bengal Chief Minister 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.
Following the arrest of the four leaders, the CBI has said it did not get the necessary permission to initiate investigation against Adhikari and Roy, as well as Trinamool Congress MPs Sougata Roy and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar.