Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court adjourned till Thursday the hearing in the Narada sting tape case, in which two West Bengal ministers, an MLA and a former mayor of Kolkata were arrested by the CBI.
In view of the adjournment Wednesday, ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former city mayor Sovan Chatterjee will continue to remain in judicial custody.
The petition of the CBI seeking transfer of trial in the case and the recalling application filed by the four leaders on the high court’s stay order on the bail granted by a CBI court Monday will be further heard by the division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee on Thursday.
The high court Monday night stayed the lower court’s decision to grant bail to the four leaders, arrested and charge-sheeted by the CBI in the Narada sting case. The division bench had said that it deemed it appropriate to stay the special court’s order and direct that the “accused person shall be treated to be in judicial custody till further orders”.
The four leaders were arrested Monday morning from their residences in the city in connection with the Narada sting case that is being investigated by the CBI on an order by the high court. The CBI prayed before the high court that it transfers all proceedings in the Narada sting tape case to itself.
It also prayed that the division bench declares that the proceedings before the special CBI court post production of the arrested accused virtually May 17 are a nullity in the eyes of law and to conduct the proceedings afresh.
The CBI further prayed that pending the final hearing and disposal of its petition before it, the high court direct continuance of its order staying the bail granted to the accused by the lower court.
Seeking transfer of the case from the special court, the CBI claimed that all the four persons arrested are very influential persons and it apprehends that they will influence and threaten the witnesses and the system. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, submitted during the hearing through the virtual mode that the incidents following the arrests were unprecedented.
“Their influence could be ascertained by the conduct of the Honble Chief Minister, Honble Law Minister, other Hon’ble Ministers and other eminent elected representatives, and the conduct of the mob at CBI Office and court premises on 17.05.2021,” the CBI said in its petition.
It claimed that while the matter was being heard by the special CBI court, the CBI office was held under gherao by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, MPs Kalyan Banerjee and Santanu Sen, and TMC MLA Humayun Kabir, while an unruly crowd indulged in stone pelting at the CBI office premises.
The CBI said that the chief minister entered the CBI office premises at 10.50 am Monday. The investigating agency claimed that while entering the CBI Office, she started shouting “You also arrest me” and sat on a dharna for six hours.
It further said that state “Law Minister Malay Ghatak, MP Kalyan Banerjee and other important functionaries of the ruling party with a very large threatening mob of persons remained in the court premises till the arguments were completed.” The CBI has made the chief minister, the law minister and Kalyan Banerjee party in its petition seeking transfer of the case.
The agency claimed in its transfer petition before the high court that due to the gherao and violence resorted to by the mob, it was not possible for the CBI officers to move out of their office to enable them to physically produce the accused in the court and to produce the case diary before it as required by Constitution and the law.
It claimed that under the said circumstances, the CBI court passed the order granting bail to the four, “under the cloud of mobocracy, pressure, threat and violence and is a nullity in the eyes of law”.
Appearing for the arrested leaders, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi claimed that there were democratic protests and that these did not affect the process of law and hearing before the special CBI court.
He submitted that the chief minister and other ministers did not in any way instigate the protesters and had instead urged them to maintain peace.
Singhvi further submitted that there is no relation between the protests and the special CBI court’s order granting bail. He questioned why were the two ministers – Mukherjee and Hakim, and the other two former ministers – Mitra and Chatterjee, arrested even though they cooperated with the investigation all along.
It was further stated that there was no reason for their being in custody since a charge sheet against them was submitted by the investigating agency before the CBI court Monday. Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had May 7 sanctioned the prosecution of Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee on a request by the CBI on the ground that all of them were holding positions of ministers in the state at the time of the alleged commission of the crime.
The Narada sting tapes, which were made public before the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal, were claimed to have been shot in 2014, wherein people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were allegedly seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of promised favours.
The sting was conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada News portal. The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the Narada sting operation in March 2017. The CBI had registered cases against 12 TMC leaders, many of whom are now in the BJP, and an IPS officer.