A five-judge Calcutta High Court bench hearing the CBI’s petition to transfer the Narada case from the trial court on Tuesday refused to comment on the issue of sanction of arrests of four political leaders last month in connection with the probe.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has challenged the sanctions the governor granted to the agency to arrest three leaders of the ruling party and a former Kolkata mayor in the case of alleged bribery. The CBI has urged the High Court to hear the case, and declare that the trial court hearing on May 17 in which the four leaders were granted bail was vitiated because of pressure from a mob.
On Tuesday, the accused’s lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that their arrest was void in the absence of a “proper sanction” from a competent authority. He pointed out that the Assembly Speaker’s permission was required to prosecute MLAs, and the prosecution of ministers had to be signed off by the council of ministers. Of the four arrested, Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim are sitting ministers while Madan Mitra is the MLA from Kamarhati. Former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee was a minister at the time of the alleged bribery. He left the TMC in 2019 to join the BJP and quit the Opposition party too before the recent Assembly polls.
The five-judge Bench of acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, and Justices Indra Prasanna Mukherjee, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee on Tuesday refused to get drawn into the sanction issue. They pointed out that the special CBI court hearing the matter had yet to conclude proceedings.
“We are today concerned with whether court proceedings were vitiated. Sanction issue is pending before the special court,” Justice Sen told Singhvi.
Justice Tandon said the Bench should be extremely cautious while making prima facie remarks on the matter to avoid affecting the main trial. “Suppose we comment on the jurisdiction, then that has a serious effect during maintainability arguments,” he added.
Singhvi then left the matter to the court’s discretion.
When Justice Mukherjee asked the lawyer during his submission if he objected to the transfer of the case, he avoided answering it.
“If for the ends of the justice, this case is transferred to a relatively safer place where there is minimal chance of reaction by leaders and people, do you have objection and why not?” the judge asked, to which Singhvi replied, “I will answer.”
The Bench will continue hearing the counsel’s arguments on the issue of transfer on Wednesday.