The Calcutta High Court in a late-night hearing Monday stayed the release of state ministers, Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra, and former Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay who were arrested in the Narada bribery case. The CBI court had granted bail to all four earlier in the day.
A division bench of Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Arijit Banerjee said it was called upon to deal with an extraordinary situation where the state Chief Minister had sat on a dharna outside the office of the CBI along with her supporters. Not only this, the Law Minister of the state was present in the court where the accused were to be presented along with 2000 to 3000 supporters.
The CBI had sent a letter to the high court alleging that the Chief Minister, Law Minister and other senior ministers of the West Bengal government along with thousands of their supporters were obstructing the discharge of its official duties.
Appearing for the CBI, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the CBI office from where the accused were to be taken to court was gheraoed by 2000-3000 political supporters of the persons in custody. There were reports of stone pelting even as some of the supporters were said to have entered the CBI office and manhandled the staff present there. Mehta added that even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had visited the spot and sat on dharna there. All of this along with the fact that the Law Minister had gone to court where the accused were to be presented along with the 2000-3000 supporters showed a total failure of the rule of law.
Mehta urged the court to transfer the trial invoking Section 407 Cr.P.C.
Advocate General, for State of West Bengal, submitted that Nizam Palace where the CBI office is situated is largely protected by paramilitary Forces. Whenever any senior leader of the party is arrested, supporters tend to collect there. On the day mentioned, senior police officers along with some 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 the discharge of their duty. There is no official complaint filed by the CBI with the police about any incident”, AG submitted.
He did not deny the fact that the Chief Minister was at the CBI office from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M, but pointed out that the letter written by the CBI did not contain a prayer to transfer the enquiry or trial of the case.
The high court thus opined it was 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 High Court said.
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The article was originally published in The Leaflet.