July 6: The Supreme Court today rejected the Bengal government's plea to cancel the bail of AMRI director S.K. Todi, a ruling that actually helps the Mamata Banerjee administration steer clear of a fresh controversy.
The Supreme Court bench of Justices Aftab Alam and H.L. Gokhale turned down the state government's plea on two key grounds. One, the chargesheet has been filed over the AMRI, Dhakuria, fire in which more than 90 people were killed in December. Two, Todi, who was granted bail on April 12, has already spent 100 days in custody.
When the accused in the AMRI case started getting bail from Calcutta High Court, the state government had said it would move the Supreme Court.
However, government sources had then said the state was unlikely to push hard for further imprisonment before the verdict as a perceived bias in the initial round of arrests and the long incarceration had triggered alarm among the business community. In the initial flush of outrage, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had also made sweeping statements that had deepened the concern.
Had the Supreme Court today accepted the state's appeal ' which many felt was filed to pre-empt suggestions that the government had shed its initial aggression ' and sent Todi back to jail, unwelcome glare would again have fallen on the government. Such controversies usually end up portraying the government as industry-unfriendly, an image it has been trying hard to shed.
If suggestions are now made that the government has done little to get the bail cancelled, the government can always point to the Supreme Court petition and state it is merely following a judicial order.
The details of today's court ruling had not been uploaded till late this evening. But the court said it was not inclined to cancel the bail for "now". This allows the state to seek bail cancellation at a later stage.
Todi, chargesheeted along with 15 others in the case, was one of the last few directors released by the high court. All the 15 other accused ' 11 directors and four employees ' are already out on bail.
The Supreme Court relief for Todi comes at a time the AMRI management has requested the state government to withdraw the prohibitive order on two of the three units in the Dhakuria complex.
On another legal front, the chief minister appeared to be sticking to her stand. Mamata today told the Assembly that the Singur bill was "fine" and not "tabled in a hurry", signalling that she would challenge the high court's order calling it "unconstitutional" in the Supreme Court and not replace it with another one.
"The bill that was passed in the House to return land to the unwilling farmers in Singur was not tabled in a hurry. The bill is fine," Mamata said while taking part in the discussion on a bill placed to reserve 17 per cent government jobs for OBCs.
This was the chief minister's first reaction in public after a division bench of Calcutta High Court struck down the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill on June 22. Mamata had then declined to comment, confining herself to a Facebook post that reaffirmed her commitment to "farmers, the working class, the poor and the under-privileged".
Mamata made the remarks today when the Opposition complained of "hurry" in introducing the quota bill.