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Judges split on bail to TMC leaders, larger bench will decide

Triamool leaders Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee have been in judicial custody since their arrest by the CBI on Monday in the Narada case.

Written by Atri Mitra | Kolkata |
Updated: May 22, 2021 5:41:58 am
State Minister Firhad Hakim arrives at his Kokata house from hospital. (Express Photo)

With a two-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court differing on whether to vacate its stay on bail to four Trinamool leaders arrested in the Narada case, the court on Friday ordered that the leaders be held in house arrest.

The court also announced a larger, five-judge bench would hear the matter.

Triamool leaders Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee have been in judicial custody since their arrest by the CBI on Monday in the Narada case. While the CBI special court had on Monday granted bail to the four leaders, hours later, a division bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee of the Calcutta High Court had put a stay on the bail order.

On Friday, as the court assembled virtually, Justice Banerjee said that there was a difference of opinion between the two judges and that he was in favour of granting interim bail to the accused. At this, the Acting Chief Justice said he was in favour of house arrest. In view of this difference of opinion, the court held that the matter would be referred to a larger bench and in the meantime, the four accused would be sent to house arrest.

Avishek Manu Singhvi and Siddharth Luthra, counsel for the accused, then urged the court to consider interim bail for the accused. However, CBI advocate and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed Singhvi and Luthra. After a break of five minutes, two judges set aside Singhvi and Luthra’s appeals and ordered that the accused be sent to house arrest.

This difference of opinion was also reflected in the court’s order of Wednesday, May 19, which was uploaded today.

The May 19 order by Justice Banerjee read, “Admittedly, investigation against the present applicants is complete and chargesheet has been submitted against them… It is also stated that further investigation against the other accused persons is continuing. If that be so, I have not understood as to how custodial detention of the applicants is necessary any more, or how further investigation against the other accused persons will be hampered if the applicants are not detained in custody.”

Justice Banerjee said that in view of the pandemic, the Supreme Court had said that “bail should be granted liberally unless custodial detention of the accused is absolutely essential… In view of the aforesaid, I am of the view that the applicants have made out a prima facie case for interim bail…”

The order by Justice Bindal, however, read, “I have gone through the order passed by Arijit Banerjee J. for grant of interim bail to the accused. …the arguments in the application for recalling the earlier order dated May 17, 2021 are still being heard. Even the counsel for one of the accused has not completed his arguments. In response the arguments of the counsel for the CBI are yet to be heard. Hence, to find out a prima facie case at this stage would be pre-mature, especially when the cases are being taken up on day to day basis…”

But “considering the age and health issues of the accused”, Justice Bindal held that “instead of custody in jail, they can be put under house arrest in their own homes”.

On the house arrest, the court said on Friday that the ministers will be able to work virtually but will not be allowed to meet anyone personally.

“The officials will not have any direct access to the accused, however, they are permitted to deal with the files sent to them online and hold meetings through video conferencing. A complete log of all video conferencing along with the details of the persons with whom it was held and the purpose therefore, shall be maintained… Further complete record of any person visiting the house of the accused at his residence shall be maintained along with its duration and the purpose,” the order read.

Besides Justices Bindal and Banerjee, the larger bench will have Justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon and Soumen Sen. The matter has been listed for May 24 at 11 am.

After Friday’s order, authorities began formalities to release the four high-profile accused. Three of them, Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee and Shovan Chatterjee, remain in SSKM Hospital where they were admitted. Firhad Hakim, who was in Presidency Correctional Home, went to his house at Chetla in South Kolkata around 6.30pm.

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