The Calcutta High Court, in a late night video sitting on Monday, stayed a Special CBI Court (at the police court, or Bankshall Court) bail order, granted to two Trinamool Congress ministers, one MLA and a former minister, accused in the 2016 Narada bribery sting case. The four had been initially arrested by the CBI and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had rushed to the CBI office and had sat in dharna there till the four got bail.
The CBI moved the high court against this order and also sought transfer of the trial, citing the dharna. Late at night the high court stayed the bail order. The case will now be heard on Wednesday. Earlier, the Special CBI court judge Anupam Mukherjee had granted bail to all four accused with two sureties of Rs 25,000 each as bail bonds.
Those arrested are ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay.
A case was registered in terms of the order passed by the high court under Sections 120B IPC, Sec. 7, 13 (2) r/w 13 (1) (a) & (d) of the PC Act 1988 against a number of accused. The allegation against them was that they had accepted substantial amount of illegal gratification from Mathew Samuel, a sting operator and so-called journalist.
Before the high court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta presented a picture of alleged chaos. He said the CBI registered the case on the direction issued by this court and arrested the accused, some of whom are members of the state cabinet. They were to be produced before the court. However, the CBI office from where the accused were to be taken to the court was gheraoed by the political supporters of the persons in custody. The crowd was 2,000 to 3,000 strong, said the SG. He also alleged that there was stone pelting and even alleged that some of the supporters had even entered the CBI office and had manhandled the staff present there. Not only this, the Chief Minister of the state, Mamta Banerjee, also came at the spot at 10.50 am and had sat in dharna, alleged the SG. Mehta said that the matter did not end here. The law minister of the state went to court where the accused were to be presented, along with crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 supporters and remained in court throughout the day.
Mehta painted a picture of an alleged deteriorating law and order situation and said that this was the ground reality under which CBI was to function and the court below (the Special CBI court) was to hear the arguments and pass the order. He said this is a case of a total failure of the rule of law. He said justice is not only to be done, but seen to have been done. He added that it was a case in which pressure was sought to be put on the officer concerned with mob and the Chief Minister and the law minister and other ministers directly present there along with mob.
Having heard the SG’s arguments, in terms of provisions of Section 407 CrPC (power of high court to transfer cases and appeals) raised by the SG, it was submitted that the matter has to be listed before a single bench. There are certain pre-conditions which are required to be complied with for filing an application. It was further argued that in case any application is filed under Section 407 CrPC, all the affected parties are to be heard which include the victim, accused and the witnesses of the case as well.
Mehta further submitted that powers under Section 407 CrPC can be exercised by the court if it is expedient in the ends of justice. The letter sent by the CBI to this court mentions the presence of the Chief Minister in the CBI office, the SG reiterated. He said that that itself is sufficient ground for transfer of the case. The matter may be taken up immediately as otherwise the people will get a message that with “mobocracy”, any order can be secured by putting pressure. In case any of his argument raised or the facts stated by him are found to be incorrect, Section 407(7) CrPC provides for dismissal of such petition with costs , Mehta said
He further referred to the provisions of Section 167 CrPC which provides that for grant or extension of police remand, the accused have to be present in person in court, whereas for judicial remand, it can be virtual.
A division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajnish Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee, after hearing the arguments, held that “The facts which are not in dispute are that a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act was registered against many accused, including some of the ministers in the present government in the State of West Bengal, on the directions issued by this court. In view of various orders passed by the Supreme Court, the investigation and prosecution of cases against MPs and MLAs were to be monitored by the court. It was only thereafter that the matter was expedited. Sanction of prosecution was granted by the competent authority and four accused were arrested in the morning today. They were to be produced in the court. Immediately after their arrest, the mob started collecting outside the CBI Office.”
It was observed by the court that “Confidence of the people in the justice system will be eroded in case such types of incidents are allowed to happen in the matters where political leaders are arrested and are to be produced in the court. Public trust and confidence in the judicial system is more important, it being the last resort. They may have a feeling that it is not rule of law which prevails but it is a mob which has an upper hand and especially in a case where it is led by the Chief Minister of the State in the office of CBI and by the Law Minister of the State in the Court Complex. If the parties to a litigation believe in Rule of Law such a system is not followed. The idea was different.
“In our opinion aforesaid facts are sufficient to take cognizance of the present matter with reference to the request of the… Solicitor General of India for examination of the issue regarding transfer of the trial. We are not touching the merits of the controversy, but the manner in which pressure was sought to be put will not inspire confidence of the people in the rule of law. As during the period when the arguments were heard, the order was passed by the Court below, we deem it appropriate to stay that order and direct that the accused person shall be treated to be in judicial custody till further orders. The authority in whose custody they are kept shall ensure that they have all medical facilities available as are required and they are treated in terms of the provisions of the Jail Manual,” the order reads.