THE Calcutta High Court Monday took up for hearing the Narada sting case, in which four leaders of the TMC, including two Bengal ministers, have been arrested, refusing a prayer by the CBI to put off the matter. It later adjourned the case to Wednesday for the next hearing.
During the virtual hearing Monday, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, urged the five-judge Bench to adjourn the hearing as the agency had filed a plea before the Supreme Court. Claiming a “template” in West Bengal in corruption cases involving high functionaries, it added that successive accused had been “emboldened through time due to the magnanimity of Hon’ble courts”.
However, the court decided to continue with the hearing as the CBI’s special leave petition is yet to be listed before the Supreme Court.
The CBI also urged the High Court Monday to transfer the case from the lower court to itself, alleging extraordinary circumstances.
In its affidavit to the High Court Bench — including Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, and Justices Harish Tandon, I P Mukerji, Arijit Banerjee and Soumen Sen — the CBI said that of the four TMC leaders put under house arrest, only Firhad Hakim (the Transport Minister) was at his home. The rest of the accused, Subrata Mukherjee (Panchayat Minister), Madan Mitra (a former minister) and Sovan Chatterjee (former Kolkata mayor), it said, “chose to stay back in the hospital wherein they have been continuously meeting guests and other political workers”, apart from meeting each other. The CBI added, “… the medical records claimed by the accused person state that the accused need constant medical care. However, from the videos in public domain, a completely different picture emerges.”
The agency also accused Chatterjee of trying to “create pressure on doctors” to get released from hospital.
It added, “… the present incidents are not isolated incidents and in fact (have) been the regular template in the state of West Bengal in all cases wherein the investigation is on corruption in high positions. It is submitted that the functionaries have been emboldened through time due to the magnanimity of Hon’ble courts… similar incidents have taken place wherein high political functionaries of the state resort to threat, violence and intimidation against CBI officials conducting investigations, (and) further seek to overreach the process established by law and impinge upon the independence of judiciary.”
After the hearing, Manishankar Mukherjee, who is representing Subrata Mukherjee, said, “Today, the Bench mainly determined the main subject of the case.” According to him, the High Court wanted to know why the CBI had carried out the arrests now, after “seven long years of investigation”.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing all the accused, said the arrests had been carried out wrongly as only the Governor’s assent and not the Speaker’s was sought. “I think it’s an arrest of democracy,” he said.
Justice Mukherjee asked Mehta why the arrests had been made now. “The CBI is investigating for seven years. What made the CBI arrest these persons just before filing a chargesheet and why was the CBI so worried when they got bail from the lower court?” he said.
The Solicitor General claimed “vitiation of the trial court proceedings” on account of protests against the arrests, led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The CBI said it could not produce the four accused in the High Court physically owing to the unruly protests.
Singhvi argued, “Using Section 407 (power of a high court to transfer appeals), can stay be ordered when four leaders have already been granted bail? Second, would it be fair not to listen to the defendants?”
Singhvi also said, “About 95% of the issues reported to the court by the CBI are baseless.”
Advocate Sidharth Luthra, also representing all the accused, said, “It is a case where there is abuse of power of arrest.”
The CBI had arrested the four leaders on May 17. A CBI Special Court had granted interim bail to them the same evening, but a High Court Bench of Acting CJ Bindal and Justice Banerjee had stayed its order, sending the four to judicial custody.
On the application filed by the accused for recall of the stay order, Justice Banerjee had on May 19 passed an order allowing bail, differing with the Acting CJ. The Division Bench had then passed an order on May 21 sending the four accused to house arrest, directing that the leaders could carry on their work virtually at home, but not receive any visitors. The court had also announced a larger, five-judge Bench to hear the matter.
In its SLP to the Supreme Court, the CBI has challenged the house arrest as well as Judge Banerjee’s opinion favouring interim bail.