The Supreme Court has restrained the West Bengal Police from arresting five TV journalists, who were booked in as many as five cases after they conducted a sting operation to show state ministers and TMC MLAs allegedly taking bribes.
A bench, headed by Justice R Banumathi, took note of the fact that when the journalists were given interim protection in one FIR by the top court on February 10, another FIR was registered by the police on the same day.
On February 10, the bench had stopped the state police from arresting journalists Bhupendra Pratap Singh, Abhishek Singh, Hemant Chowrasia and Ayush Kumar Singh in connection with an FIR that alleged sting operation was a tool to extort money from the politicians. A part of the sting operation was telecast on TV channels and in print media in Kolkata on January 5.
Soon after the court passed this order, two more FIRs were lodged against the journalists. First, on the same day the bench gave interim protection to the journalists, and another on February 27. These fresh FIRs compelled the journalists to move the Supreme Court yet again.
The fresh petition, apart from complaining about abuse of police powers by the ministers and leaders of the ruling party in the state, also sought transfer of the investigation to the CBI. It also sought protection from arrest for another journalist Umesh Kumar Sharma and authorized representative of the Bangla Bharat News Channel Anil Vijay.
Representing the journalists, senior advocates KV Vishwanathan and Aparajita Singh lamented that the police is going after them with a sense of vengeance and that the new FIRs are being registered to threaten them.
Submitting that the manner in which the West Bengal police have acted after the Supreme Court order on February 10 and lodged two more FIRs, it was a reasonable apprehension that the investigations are tainted and biased against the journalists. Therefore, the senior lawyers argued that the investigations must be handed over to the CBI for a free and fair probe.
The Supreme Court issued notices to the state government, the CBI, state ministers state ministers Tapas Roy, Arup Roy and some other TMC leaders, seeking their replies on the plea to transfer the investigations.
About the fresh FIRs, the bench decided to immune the journalists from arrest in all the cases arising out of the sting operation.
It ordered that the petitioners will be granted interim protection from arrest in all five cases.
The court also asked the journalists to cooperate with the investigation. Like in the previous order, the bench added that they shall surrender their passports before the concerned police station.