No infirmity in Calcutta HC order, top court rules, extends the probe timeline to one month
The Supreme Court on March 21 delivered a heavy blow to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), allowing the Calcutta High Court-ordered CBI probe into the Narada News sting scam to continue. Not only that, the apex court even increased the time limit for the initial probe from the high court-directed 15 days to a month.
TMC had approached the apex court through top counsels Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi (incidentally, both of the Congress), with its legislators Suvendu Adhikary, Sougata Roy among the appellants, at the court of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) JS Khehar and Justices DY Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
The order for a preliminary enquiry by the CBI (with a 15-day time limit) was given by a division bench of the Calcutta High Court, comprising Acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice T Chakraborti.
The petitioners were challenging this order of the high court, claiming that the CBI inquiry will not be fair because it will be influenced by the central government. In the Narada sting tapes several TMC leaders were caught on camera taking money.
Sibal submitted that the original computer from which the data was produced was not as per the IT Act. He also asked: “Why not the police, why CBI? Why doesn’t the court monitor the investigation? Why hand over it to centre?”
The CJI replied: “You are powerful persons.”
Sibal said: “Don’t throw us before the lioness. You may have an SIT, I am ready for any investigation, but not by CBI. We are not shying away.”
The CJI inserted a little bit humour in the proceedings, when he said: “We will give to UP police.” Everyone laughed.
Back on a serious note, the CJI said: “If you fear, we will ask the court to monitor.”
Sibal went back to the SIT plea, to which the CJI said: “It is demeaning to say no to the CBI. You can tell us your fear and we will protect you.”
To which Sibal said: “The same bench should not hear the matter since the bench had made some inferences.” The CJI rejected that outright. He said: “No no that is not possible.”
Singhvi then submitted that the original petitioners in high court are from the BJP. “Let there be a SIT and not by CBI,” he said.
The CJI said: “How can we doubt the CBI? They are the premier agency of our country.”
Singhvi said: “Your lordships have doubted the CBI many times.”
“This disturbs the federal structure,” said Sibal, adding “(the) court should not be passing such orders.”
At this Harish Salve, for the respondents stood up and said: “Caveator pointed out that there are allegations of bias against judges who passed the CBI investigation in the SLP Petition by the state.”
In its order, the apex court said: “We have perused the impugned order with the assistance of counsels for petitioner. It emerges that the high court took into consideration and directed preliminary enquiry at the hands of CBI. We find no infirmity. We also find rights of the petitioners are fully protected. In spite of having not interfered with the impugned order. Investigation agency should be allowed to carry on with investigation…
“We also relax the timeline to conclude the investigation to within one month. If they need further time it is open to the investigation agency to move application before high court for investigation,” the order said.
Regarding the state’s SLP, the court said: “The grounds in these transgressed the proprietary of reasonableness. It is most unfortunate and calls for outright rejection.”
At this the counsels for the state sought permission to withdraw the petition and to tender an apology for the same. The apology was accepted and the matter dismissed.
—By India Legal Bureau