The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday adjourned till Thursday afternoon the hearing in the Narada sting tape case in which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested three Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders and a former Kolkata mayor.
With the court’s Division Bench deciding to resume the hearing at 2 pm on Thursday, the four will continue to remain in judicial custody. While Firhad Hakim is in Presidency Correctional Home, his Cabinet colleague Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former Mayor Sovan Chatterjee have been admitted to the Woodburn ward of SSKM Hospital here. All of them were arrested on Monday morning.
Earlier on Wednesday, Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee heard the CBI’s petition to transfer the trial to the High Court, declare the proceedings in a special CBI court on May 17 a nullity in the eyes of the law, and conduct the proceedings afresh. The CBI has made Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, state Law Minister Moloy Ghatak and TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee party to the transfer plea. The Division Bench also picked up the plea of the four accused to recall its stay on the bail the CBI court had granted them on Monday. Senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for the four leaders while Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta represented the CBI.
Mehta told the court that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tried to create pressure on the central agency. The solicitor-general said the TMC chairperson’s visit to Nizam Palace was unprecedented, and alleged that she shouted at the agency’s officials and asked them to arrest her. Banerjee allegedly demanded the unconditional release of the four and threatened CBI officers with cases under the Disaster Management Act. Mehta also alleged that TMC workers outside the CBI office engaged in violence, preventing the agency from taking the accused for medical tests. According to the transfer plea, the four leaders could not be presented in the CBI court in person because of the violence and the agency failed to produce the case diary before the lower court as required by Constitution and the law.
Mehta said it was apparent that the CBI was resisted in a well-planned manner using the sheer numerical strength of an “unruly mob”. The counsel said Moloy Ghatak was present on the CBI court premises with his followers, creating pressure on the judge. The CBI court granted bail to the four “under the cloud of mobocracy, pressure, threat and violence and is a nullity in the eyes of law”, Mehta reasoned.
Arguing for the accused, Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the judges that Mamata Banerjee and TMC workers had gathered at the CBI office in Kolkata’s Nizam Palace following the arrests to protest against political vendetta. The counsel claimed that the manner in which the arrests were made was wrong, and denied that the ruling party created pressure on the judiciary during the hearing at the special CBI court.
Referring to the chief minister’s sit-in at Nizam Palace, Singhvi said it was not connected to the bail granted by the special CBI court. The senior lawyer pointed out that the accused were public representatives and had always cooperated with the investigating agency.
After hearing both sides for over two-and-a-half hours, the court adjourned the proceedings. “Justice Arijit Banerjee asked the solicitor-general whether the accused persons did not cooperate during the investigation. He also asked whether there was any need to keep them in jail during Covid times. Abhishek Manu Singhvi representing our clients rightly argued that even in the chargesheet, the investigating officer [IO] says there is no need for further investigation. CBI got an ex-parte stay on the bail order while we were kept in the dark,” said Niladri Bhattacharya, one of the advocates who appeared for the accused.
Hitting out at the TMC, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, “It is clear from recent developments that Mamata Banerjee and her party are trying very hard to influence the CBI probe. Whenever the CBI becomes active, Mamata Banerjee stands in their way. This also shows that the investigation is moving in the right direction.”
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