On Monday, 17th May, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested four politicians from the All India Trinamool Congress for their alleged culpability in the Narada bribery scam. The case came out in the public domain with a sting operation in 2014, which was carried out by Mathew Samuel (former managing editor of the Indian news magazine ‘Tehelka’) and showed several TMC leaders and the then Superintendent of Police (SP), SM H Meerza, who was arrested earlier and is now on bail, taking cash bribes in return to favour a private person who had acted as a representative of a make-believe company. The tape was published on the internet in 2016, right before the West Bengal Assembly elections.
The four leaders who were arrested were Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee (Cabinet ministers), Sovan Chatterjee (Former Mayor), and Madan Mitra (Former Transport Minister). All of the four were arrested between 6:30 and 9:00 am after which they were taken to the CBI’s Kolkata Headquarters at Nizam Palace. Soon, West Bengal Chief Minister reached Nizam Palace and ‘dared’ the CBI officials to arrest her as well. A tsunami of TMC supporters could also be seen in a high-voltage drama which unfolded against the arrests wherein they turned violent and hurled stones at the security forces and were all set to barge inside the CBI headquarters. Raj Bhavan too witnessed an overwhelming and violent crowd of TMC partisans who raised slogans against the Governor and wanted to enter the premises of the building.
After all the chaos, West Bengal Law Minister, Moloy Ghatak filed a bail application for the arrested in the Special CBI Court, and bail was granted bail by Judge Anupam Mukherjee. The Court noted that investigation against the four accused had been completed and through the investigating officer sought liberty to further investigation against the other accused, there was no prayer for the CBI custody of the arrested persons. The Court also cited the Supreme Court’s judgment which had directed authorities to decongest prisons to reduce crowding so that transmission of COVID-19 infection among the inmates can be avoided.
Considering all these facets, the four accused were granted interim bail of Rs. 50,000 each with two sureties of Rs. 25,000 each.
While the hearing was going on, the State Law Minister, Moloy Ghatak and around 2000-3000 TMC supporters had gathered inside the premises of the Court.
After this, the CBI moved the Calcutta High Court to challenge the bail granted to the four politicians, and the urgent hearing took place on Monday night. A Division Bench comprising acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee stayed the order of the Special CBI Court granting bail to the accused and directed that the four shall be sent to judicial custody until further orders were made. The Court observed, “Public trust and confidence in the judicial system is more important, it is the last resort. They may have the feeling that it is not the rule of law that prevails but a mob that has an upper hand especially in a case where it is led by the Chief Minister of the State in the office of the CBI and by the Law Minister of the State in the Court complex.”
The matter will be considered for further hearing on May 19th.
After the cancellation of their bail, the leaders were sent to the Presidency Jail. After which, Sovan Chatterjee and Madan Mitra were admitted to SSKM hospital on Tuesday morning. Soon, even Subrata Mukherjee was taken and admitted to the hospital. After which only Firhad Hakim stayed lodged at Presidency Jail. Hours after all three were hospitalized; TMC filed a plea in the Calcutta High Court seeking the repeal of the Monday order which stayed the accused leaders’ bail. In the meantime, the CBI prepared to file a caveat in the Supreme Court as TMC may move the apex court challenging the HC order.
While all the legal proceedings about that the case took place, TMC leaders continued to cry foul and claimed that the arrests made were nothing but political vendetta at the hands of BJP after they lost the State Assembly elections. The TMC cadres and the West Bengal Assembly Speaker alleged that his sanction was not asked for before the arrests were made and that the Governor, Jagdeep Dhankar, did not keep him in the loop before proceeding while acting. They also raised questions asking why Mukul Roy and Suvendu Adhikari who were among the accused and now part of BJP’s leadership, not arrested.
As a response, CBI officials on Tuesday said that they had found nothing so far against Mukul Roy and Aparupa Poddar (TMC Loksabha member) and its application seeking permission to prosecute four others including Suvendu Adhikari was pending with the Lok Sabha Speaker for over two years. They added that the investigation was still on and no clean chit had been given to anyone.
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