The Calcutta High Court on Monday took up hearing in the Narada sting tapes case — in which two Bengal ministers, a TMC MLA and a former mayor of Kolkata have been arrested — refusing a prayer by the CBI to adjourn the matter. Representing the CBI, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, during the virtual session, prayed before the five-judge bench that it adjourn hearing in the case, as the investigating agency has filed a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court, in connection with the high court’s May 19 and May 21 orders.
The five-judge bench of the high court, however, decided to commence hearing in the matter since the SLP is yet to be listed for hearing before the apex court. It heard the CBI plea for transfer of the case from lower court to high court, and applications filed by the accused for recall of the stay order the high court had given on a lower court ruling.
The CBI has sought before the high court transfer of the case alleging extraordinary circumstances. The agency claimed that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna at the CBI office after the arrests were made, and that it could not produce the four accused in court physically owing to unruly protests by a large number of people outside its office complex.
The four leaders – ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former city mayor Sovan Chatterjee — were arrested on May 17 morning by the CBI, which is investigating the Narada sting tapes case on the order of the high court. A special CBI court had on that very day granted interim bail to the four accused, but a division bench of the high court — comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee — later stayed its decision, following which the leaders were sent to judicial custody.
Differing on the application filed by the accused for recall of the stay order, Justice Arijit Banerjee had on May 19 passed an order allowing bail, while acting chief justice Bindal wanted that they be placed under house arrest. The division bench then passed an order on May 21, sending the four accused to house arrest, modifying its earlier order that stayed their bail granted by a CBI court.
The ministers and the other two are undergoing house confinement since May 21. In view of the difference of opinion, the matter was then referred to a larger bench.
A five-judge bench comprising the acting Chief Justice, justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee was subsequently constituted and the case was listed for hearing at 11 am on Monday. Lawyer Manishankar Chatterjee, who is representing Subrata Mukherjee, said that the issues that would be heard in the high court were noted by the five-judge bench on Monday.
Among the main issues that were brought to the fore include the possibility of hearing the CBI’s transfer application together with the bail pleas filed by the accused, Chatterjee said. He further said that the five-judge bench has fixed the matter for further hearing on Wednesday.
The sting operation, conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada TV news channel in 2014, had purportedly caught on camera politicians accepting bribes in lieu of favours.