Calcutta HC sends TMC leaders to jail after CBI cites Mamata Banerjee’s dharna
The Calcutta high court on Monday night stayed the bail granted to two TMC ministers, a legislator and former leader of the party in the Narada sting operation case after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) requested transfer of the case citing a security threat to officers of the probe agency.
To back its contention, the CBI cited chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the CBI office at Nizam Palace in south Kolkata and demonstration by TMC workers, some of whom also pelted stones, after urban development minister Firhad Hakim, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, Kamarhati MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who left the ruling party, were arrested from their homes on Monday morning. The TMC workers assembled outside Nizam Palace after the accused were brought there.
The accused leaders were taken to Presidency correctional home around 1.30 am on Tuesday. The convoy of cars left Nizam Palace amid tight security after their mandatory health examination.
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Challenging the bail granted to the accused by the special CBI court in Kolkata during a virtual hearing on Monday afternoon, the CBI told the bench of acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal and justice Arijit Banerjee that the CM sat on a “dharna” outside the CBI office with her supporters and law minister Moloy Ghatak was present at the CBI court, where the accused were to be physically presented, “along with 2,000 to 3,000 supporters.”
The agency also alleged that TMC Lok Sabha member Kalyan Bandopadhyay forcibly entered the CBI office and heckled the officers and staff.
The order of the high court was available late on Monday night. The CBI was represented by Tushar Mehta, solicitor general of India and Y J Dastoor, additional solicitor general. The state was represented by Kishore Dutta, advocate general and some other senior lawyers. The case was heard virtually. The court described it as an “extraordinary situation.”
Adjourning the hearing till Wednesday and ordering judicial custody for the accused, the court said, “In our opinion aforesaid facts are sufficient to take cognizance of the present matter with reference to the request of the learned 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 order said Dastoor told the bench that a mail from the CBI “pointed out certain glaring facts regarding the manner in which the chief minister, law minister and other senior ministers of the government in the state of West Bengal, along with their supporters in thousands, were obstructing CBI in discharge of its official duties.”
“Immediately after their arrest, as they are political leaders of the party in power in the state, [a] number of followers gheraoed the CBI office in Nizam Palace area and did not allow the CBI officers to move out of their office to enable them to produce the accused in court. The matter did not end here. The chief minister of West Bengal Smt. Mamta Banerjee also arrived at the spot at 10.50 hours and sat on dharna along with the mob. Unconditional release of the accused was sought from the CBI office itself. It was under these circumstances that the matter was mentioned before this Court immediately in the afternoon today seeking a direction to the state to allow the CBI to discharge its function and enable them to produce the accused in court,” said the high court, referring to Dastoor’s prayer.
The court also noted that the SG had submitted that the CBI had registered the case on the court’s direction and arrested some members of the state cabinet, but their supporters surrounded the CBI office in protest. “The crowd was 2,000 to 3,000. Stone pelting was resorted to. Some of the supporters even entered the office of CBI and manhandled the staff present there,” the court said, referring to Mehta’s argument.
“It is a case in which there is total failure of rule of law. The justice is not only to be done but seen to have been done. It is a case in which pressure was sought to be put on the officer concerned with [the] mob and the chief minister and the law minister and other ministers directly present there along with [the] mob. Referring to the provisions of Section 407 Cr.P.C., he submitted that the provision clearly provides for different situations under which trial of the case can be transferred by this Court. In case there is apprehension that fair and impartial trial is not possible or it is expedient in the ends of justice. This power can be exercised even suo-motu by this Court seeing the entire facts situation,” the court said, referring to Mehta’s argument.
Section 407 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) empowers a high court to transfer the hearing of a case on several grounds including the possibility of law and order problem.
The advocate general countered Mehta’s arguments and demand for transfer of the case.
“As the issue of law and order in the state had arisen, the learned advocate general was requested to assist the Court. He submitted that Nizam Palace where the CBI office is situated, the major part of it is protected by para military forces. Whenever any senior leader of the party is arrested, supporters always collect there. Senior police officers along with 100 police officials were on duty and no untoward incident was allowed to happen. CBI officers were provided full protection by the local police for discharge of their duty. There is no official complaint filed by the CBI with the police about any incident,” said the court citing the advocate general’s argument.
The court went on to note that while the state government argued against transfer of enquiry or trial of the case citing necessary procedure and pre-conditions, the CBI said it could be done by the court if it was “expedient in the ends of justice” while citing Mamata Banerjee’s presence outside the CBI office as “a sufficient ground for transfer of the case”.
Taking cognizance of the arguments from both sides the judges observed that the incidents can erode people’s confidence in the justice system.
“In these facts and circumstances, if any order is passed by the Court the same will not have faith and confidence of the people in the system of administration of justice. 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,” the court said.