SC gives fresh chance to Mamata Banerjee, minister to respond to CBI charges
The Supreme Court on Friday allowed West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and minister Moloy Ghatak to respond by Monday to the grounds the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has cited in its plea before the Calcutta high court for the transfer of the Narada corruption case out of the state. The CBI has claimed that violent protests allegedly orchestrated by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) over the arrest of four politicians in the case last month hampered its probe and intimidated lower courts. It has named Banerjee, Ghatak, and TMC lawmaker Kalyan Banerjee as respondents in the case.
The high court on June 9 refused to accept the responses of the TMC leaders, citing the delay in filing them while hearing the CBI plea for the transfer of the case. The Supreme Court said the TMC leaders, in their application, shall give reasons in support of bringing the affidavits on record at this stage of hearing. It added that an advance copy should be sent to the CBI to enable it to come up with a response by Tuesday.
A Vacation Bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari set aside the high court’s June 9 order. It requested the five-judge Constitution Bench of the high court to consider the applications of the two “de novo” (a second time over) before proceeding with the merits of the case. On June 18 and 22, the Supreme Court requested the high court to defer its proceedings in the case.
“We are of the opinion that the petitioners ought to have filed an application (before the high court) to take their respective counter affidavits on record, especially when submissions or arguments were going on and had progressed substantially….Lest any prejudice is caused to the parties, the order of June 9 is annulled and the High Court shall decide the application de novo,” the top court said.
The CBI filed its transfer petition on May 24, but notices were issued on May 27 to Banerjee and Ghatak. The agency has accused Ghatak of leading a mob outside the trial court, which first granted bail to the four politicians including ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee in the Narada case, on May 17. The high court later stayed the bail.
The four, who have since been released on bail, were arrested in May in connection with the 2014 sting operation (details of which went public in 2016). The arrests triggered protests by the TMC and a six-hour-long agitation at the CBI office by Banerjee.
In its transfer petition, the agency claimed the protests and stone-pelting mob prevented CBI officers from physically producing the accused in court.
The case pertains to a two-year-long sting operation whose videos were uploaded months ahead of the 2016 assembly elections. The sting, conducted by online news portal Narada News, purportedly caught TMC leaders accepting money in exchange for alleged favours to a fictitious company.
The TMC has linked the arrests of the four to Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government’s alleged vendetta after Banerjee swept back to power in the state in May. The BJP has rejected the allegation.