In a major setback for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), three legislators of West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) including two ministers — Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee —who were arrested on Monday by the probe agency in connection with 2016 Narada sting operation case were granted ‘conditional bail’ by the CBI Special Court.
Apart from Hakim and Mukherjee, TMC legislator Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who had crossed over to the BJP and then quit the party before the elections, were also arrested in the same case.
After hearing both the parties (CBI and the defence lawyers) for more than an hour, CBI Special Court Judge Anupam Mukherjee granted conditional bail to all four of them on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each.
Sources said the CBI will now move the Calcutta High Court to challenge the CBI Special Court verdict.
TMC MP and Lawyer Kalyan Banerjee who appeared on behalf of the TMC leaders, said, “Today, the Hon’ble Court has granted interim bail to my clients after prolonged hearing. Initially, the CBI sought for police custody of my clients. Then, I said that the police custody is not required and started giving reasons why police custody is not required in this case. Then, the CBI suddenly changed their stand and said they are asking for judicial custody and not police custody.”
“Then, I started arguing why bail should be granted in this case to my clients. I said that in a case related to prevention of corruption – two main reasons should be required, which includes demand has to be made for a bribe and bribe has been given. In the concocted video, which is the base of CBI’s prosecutions against my clients, it does not appear that my client demanded the bribe. Not the least, on May 7, the Supreme Court had said that in view of COVID-19 situation, the police should not detain anybody unnecessarily (except hot cases),” he further said.
Kalyan Banerjee also termed Governor’s sanctions as illegal and unconstitutional.
Speaking on the matter, Hakim said, “Today was not only a day to harass and do vendetta against me and my colleagues but also it was BJP unleashing its vengeance on the people of Bengal. Their Sore Loss and anger on people of Bengal for voting TMC with landslide margins. BJP choose to stall any Covid work to gain control over Bengal. For them power and possession of Bengal matters more than death of lakhs of people in our country. The fabricated 2014 alleged case of sting operation which involves a few lakhs hasn’t been proven, and its is picked up before elections to harass us. Now it’s picked for vengeance against people voting TMC to power.”
“BJP has spent thousands of crores on elections which in unaccounted. The thousands of crores of PM relief fund cant be questioned with Right to Information Act. Thus, we still don’t know why the health care facility of our country wasn’t equipped with PM fund for the 2nd wave? However they created an alleged sting operation which is baseless and has no proper evidence and they humiliate us with it. My colleagues who bent down to their pressure tactics and joined BJP are spared from the arrest today and harassment by CBI. BJP has stooped so low that the country is losing its countrymen while they are only concentrating on political vendetta,” he further said in his Facebook post.
Welcoming the court’s order, TMC MP Saugata Roy said, “Justice has prevailed and we all are happy with the Court’s verdict. This proved the desperation of CBI to frame our leader on the instruction of BJP leaders. Now it’s time to concentrate on containing Covid-19 and we all should fight collectively in this pandemic situation.”
Earlier on Monday, high drama unfolded outside Hakim’s residence in south Kolkata’s Chetla around 8 am, after a team of CBI officers reached there in the middle of protests by TMC supporters. After 20 minutes of questioning, he was taken to the Nizam Palace.
The others including Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee personally appeared before the CBI officers at the Nizam Palace following summons from the probe agency.
Soon after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other senior party leaders, MLAs and MPs rushed to the Nizam Palace and accused the CBI of working on the instruction of the BJP.
Mamata Banerjee termed the arrests illegal and asked investigators to arrest her as well. The Chief Minister left the CBI office late in the afternoon.
A few days ago, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has accorded prosecution sanction to the CBI against three Trinamool Congress leaders including Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, and Subrata Mukherjee in the 2016 Narada sting operation case.
Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee said the arrest was illegal, as the CBI did not take his permission.
Speaking exclusively to News18.com, Speaker Biman Banerjee said, “Recently, the matter was up for hearing at the Calcutta High Court and then the judge asked the CBI whether they have taken the consent of the state Assembly speaker to prosecute them (those who were arrested today) or not. We informed the advocate general that no such consent was given. The CBI has not sent us any letter or communication in this matter.”
He further said, “The CBI, instead of approaching the State Assembly speaker, met Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and he accorded prosecution sanction against the leaders. I don’t know why the CBI avoided me and went directly to the Governor for his consent. I was very much present in my office when they went to meet the Governor for his consent. I think when the Calcutta High Court highlighted ‘speaker’s consent’ before prosecuting the leaders, the Governor’s interference in this matter is against the law. It could be seen as going against the Calcutta High Court’s view. I think the Governor’s consent is illegal and arresting someone on the basis of this illegal consent is unethical, unconstitutional and undemocratic.”
“To file a charge sheet against the MLAs, the speaker’s consent is required. Unfortunately, in this case, the CBI didn’t follow the constitutional norms,” he said.
The CBI said a case was registered in April 2017 after “public servants were caught on camera while receiving illegal gratification”.
The ‘controversial’ sting operation at the centre of the controversy was conducted by Narada news founder Mathew Samuel for over two years. Ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections, Narada news released videos showing 13 TMC ministers and leaders accepting bribes in return for favours.
As part of the sting operation, Samuel formed a fictitious company and approached several TMC ministers, asking them for favours in return for money.
Those seen in the Narada sting tapes were: Firhad Hakim, Mukul Roy (now with the BJP), Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Sultan Ahmed, Subrata Mukherjee, Suvendu Adhikari (now with the BJP), Sovan Chatterjee (who joined the BJP and then quit), Aparupa Poddar, Madan Mitra, Iqbal Ahmed, Prasun Banerjee and HMS Mirza.
On March 17, 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered that a preliminary probe will be conducted by the CBI. The court also directed the CBI to register an FIR (first information report) against others involved in the case, if required.
On April 17, 2017, the CBI filed a charge sheet against the 13 leaders and other TMC functionaries. All of them were booked under Section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code (criminal conspiracy), Section 13 (2), 13 (1D) and Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.