Saradha scam accused and TMC heavyweight Madan Mitra was granted interim bail by a special court on Friday after spending over 21 months in jail. The special crime branch of the CBI, which is investigating the Rs 2,500 crore chit fund scam, will move the High Court seeking cancellation of his bail, said an official of the agency.
Mitra is accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy with Saradha boss Sudipta Sen, who is also in jail. Arrested on December 12, 2014, the TMC leader was granted bail by Additional District and Sessions Judge Uttam Kumar Nandi on a surety of Rs 30 lakh to be paid in two installments. The court also directed him to surrender his passport to CBI and appear before the agency’s local office on a weekly basis. Mitra’s lawyer Gopal Halder said, “He has been in custody for 634 days, so there is no problem if he’s released now on bail.”
The former Cabinet minister’s counsel had argued that he was no longer an MLA or minister but an “ordinary citizen”, and that there had been minimal progress in the investigation. The CBI counsel retorted by saying that Mitra needed to be incarcerated to “prove to society that they do not need to fear any longer as the cobra is behind bars and cannot harm them, thus they can come out and give statements”.
The CBI has repeatedly opposed Mitra’s bail pleas, arguing that as an influential political leader, he could influence the course of the investigation or tamper with evidence. The Calcutta High Court had in November last year cancelled bail granted to him by the Alipore district sessions court on the basis of a ‘violation’ of court decorum.
Senior counsels Milan Mukherjee and Niladri Bhattacharya had submitted on Thursday that the “purpose of the investigation” as far as Mitra was concerned, “ceased to exist” on February 18, 2015 – the day CBI filed their first supplementary chargesheet in which he was named. Rejecting CBI’s claim that Mitra was “influential”, they argued that during his time in custody, Mitra has “lost his ministry and MLA position”. “So where is the influence as claimed by CBI?” they asked.
“Speedy trial also includes speedy investigation. In our case, the petitioner (Mitra) was last interrogated on December 28, 2015, in custody. The question that I raise is where does the investigation end so I get the right to appeal for bail?” submitted Mitra’s counsels. They asked “if there is any progress regarding further investigation…into the offence regarding Mr Mitra” and “if his custody is required in the changed circumstance” of Mitra now being an “ordinary citizen”.
CBI counsels K Raghavcharyulu and Parth Sarathi Dutta had submitted that while it was “not possible at this point to provide evidence, there are material findings against Madan Mitra”, adding that “there has been suppression of facts”. They argued that Mitra “did not resign from his post of ministership, he lost the post due to curse of 99 souls who had committed suicide due to the scam”. To the “ordinary citizen” pitch made by Mitra’s counsels, they responded by saying that even though “he was not a minister any longer, his power has not diminished”.
Raghavcharyulu said that as many as 160 companies had been floated and the scam involved 320 branches, 347 bank accounts and 2,21,000 agents. “All this couldn’t have been done by Sudipto Sen alone,” he added. After Mitra was granted bail, a CBI official said, “After receiving the order we will move the High Court in the first available date to seek cancellation of the bail.” Mitra was re-nominated as the TMC candidate from his Kamarhati constituency in the state Assembly elections earlier this year. Even though he contested from jail, he lost the elections.
Welcoming his release, party secretary general Partha Chatterjee said they were happy and the party would always stand by him. “We are surprised that a social worker (Madan Mitra) spends so many months in a jail when a murder case accused can get bail in three months,” said Chatterjee.