Calcutta HC grants interim bail to two Bengal ministers, TMC

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MLA, former Kolkata mayor in Narada case (Eds: Adds inputs) Kolkata, May 28 (PTI) The Calcutta High Court on Friday granted interim bail to two West Bengal ministers, a Trinamool Congress MLA and a former mayor of the city, arrested by the CBI in the Narada sting tapes case.

Imposing conditions, a five-judge bench of the high court directed each of the four accused persons, who are under house arrest, to furnish bail bonds of Rs 2 lakh with two sureties of like amount.

The bench directed that the accused - ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee - will not give any press interview or make any public comment in connection with the cases pending in the high court or in the trial court, pertaining to the alleged offence concerning themselves or any other co-accused.

The five-judge bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee directed that the accused persons will not tamper with the evidence or attempt to intimidate or influence witnesses.

The bench also said that the four accused will make themselves available for interrogation as and when required by the CBI.

It said that considering the COVID-related restrictions imposed in West Bengal, the interrogation may be carried out through virtual mode.

The matter will be heard again on May 31.

The CBI prayed for transfer of the Narada sting tapes case from the special CBI court to the high court, which had ordered an investigation into the matter by the central investigating agency.

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, objected to the granting of interim bail to the accused leaders stating that they are influential persons, who can tamper with evidence or make public statements regarding this case or gather a mob whenever they are called for further investigation or the case is taken up for hearing.

The bench said that it deemed it fit to grant interim bail to the accused since the factual and legal issues sought to be raised in the matter may require some time for final determination.

The five-judge bench directed that the interim order will continue till the disposal of the proceedings or until further order.

Senior counsels appearing for the accused prayed for grant of interim bail to them during the pendency of the matter before the court.

The four leaders were arrested on the morning of May 17 by the CBI, which is investigating the Narada sting tapes case on a 2017 order of the Calcutta High Court.

A special CBI court had granted interim bail to the four accused on May 17, but a division bench of the high court - comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee - stayed the decision later that day, following which the leaders were sent to judicial custody.

Differing on the application by the accused persons for recall of the stay order, Justice Arijit Banerjee on May 21 favoured granting of bail to the four, while Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal wanted that they be sent on house arrest.

The division bench then passed an order sending the four accused to house arrest, modifying its earlier order that stayed their bail.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had on May 7 sanctioned the prosecution of Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee on a request by the CBI on the ground that all of them were holding positions of ministers in the state at the time of the alleged commission of the crime.

The Narada sting tapes, which were made public before the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal, were claimed to have been shot in 2014, wherein people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were allegedly seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours.

The sting operation was allegedly conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada News portal.

The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the Narada sting operation in March, 2017.

The central investigating agency had registered cases against 12 TMC leaders, including the four arrested, and an IPS officer. PTI AMR BDC BDC