THE CALCUTTA High Court on Friday ordered a preliminary inquiry by the CBI into the Narada News sting operation, which purportedly showed several senior Trinamool Congress leaders taking bribes. A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty directed the CBI to conclude the probe within 72 hours and “to take custody of the devices and CFSL reports” related to the sting operation within 24 hours. Stating that a “serious and cognizable offence” had been committed, the division bench noted that the reports sent by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Chandigarh and Hyderabad had said the tapes were untampered.
“Depending on the result of the inquiry, the CBI shall forthwith register an FIR in respect of all the alleged crimes, and proceed to investigate the same. The CBI must act promptly since persons with doubtful integrity and who commit crimes affecting the society at large must be brought to book swiftly,” said the bench. Explaining its reasons for ordering a CBI probe, the court observed that the respondents hold high public offices. “The state police are at best, unfortunately, puppets on a string, the end of which is with the respondents. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the preliminary inquiry should be conducted by a neutral and independent investigating agency,” it said.
Stating that the respondents did not deny being featured in the video footage, the court said the conduct of public figures must be beyond reproach. The court also ordered disciplinary action against IPS officer S M H Mirza, who was purportedly seen in the sting tapes, “within a week from today and to consider suspending him, in consonance with the service rules governing his employment as a superintendent of police”.
Questioning the timing of the court order, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said her government would challenge it in the Supreme Court. “My government and our party will of course challenge this order in the Supreme Court. I understand this game and you also understand it. The order came just after the Uttar Pradesh election results. The judgment was reserved for the right time,” she said.
Asking how the state BJP could predict the verdict, she said: “It was planned. It was planted. The sting operation was shown from the BJP office before the (West Bengal) assembly elections. Now, before the court verdict, a state BJP president is giving the verdict. What the state BJP president said is in public domain. He said that after the Uttar Pradesh elections, a CBI probe will be ordered… It is most unfortunate. As a lawyer, I am really shocked. We will fight this politically and legally.”
Banerjee said the West Bengal police department was not allowed to probe the Narada sting operation. “The court did not allow the West Bengal police to conduct a probe. We wanted to probe the matter within 24 hours after the release of the video,” she said. The Narada sting tapes, which were released in March last year before the West Bengal assembly elections, purportedly showed top TMC leaders and an IPS officer accepting bribes. Mathew Samuel, editor of Narada News, had told the court that the tapes were made in 2014 and the recordings were done using an iPhone, transferred to a laptop and then stored in a pen drive. A committee set up by the high court took possession of all these devices.
Defending her party leaders, Banerjee said today that they had only taken donations. “During elections, one can accept amounts of Rs 1 lakh, Rs 2 lakh as donation. It is allowed by the Election Commission. We have submitted Income Tax returns. We have given all reports to the EC also,” she said.