Narada case: Cal HC orders house arrest of 4 leaders, forms larger bench

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(Eds: Tweaking intro, adding new 2nd para) Kolkata, May 21 (PTI) The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered the shifting of two West Bengal ministers, an MLA and a former mayor of the city, who were arrested by the CBI in the Narada sting tape case, to house arrest from jail incarceration.

The court passed the direction modifying its earlier order that stayed their bail granted by a special CBI court on Monday when the four leaders were arrested.

The court directed that the two ministers, during their period of house arrest, can deal with official files sent to them online and hold meetings through video conferencing.

The judges of the division bench presided by Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, who differed on the issue of recalling the stay on bail to the four accused, decided to refer the matter to a larger bench.

For the purpose, the Acting Chief Justice has constituted a five-judge bench consisting of himself, Justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee.

The matter will be taken up for hearing at 11 am on May 24.

The new bench will hear the CBI's prayer for transfer of the case from the lower court to itself.

Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, Transport Minister Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI on Monday morning in connection with the Narada sting tape case that is being investigated by the agency as per a 2017 order of the high court.

Modifying its earlier order of May 17, the division bench, also comprising Justice Arijit Banerjee, on Friday directed that 'considering the age and health issues of the accused, three of whom are said to be admitted in hospital, instead of custody in jail, all the accused persons can be put under house arrest in their own homes.' Of the four accused who have been in judicial remand, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee were admitted to the state-run SSKM Hospital owing to ailments a day after their arrest on Monday.

The bench directed that during their house arrest, while being in home comfort, they will be entitled to all medical facilities and will be bound by all applicable restrictions.

The bench directed that it will be the duty of the jail authorities in the state to enforce the conditions.

'Keeping in view importance of the issues involved in the matter, as noticed in various orders passed by this court, we find that it would be appropriate if the entire matter is heard by a larger bench,' the division bench said.

Earlier, differing on the recalling applications filed by the accused persons, Justice Arijit Banerjee favoured granting of bail to the four, while Acting Chief Justice Bindal wanted that they be sent on house arrest.

While the CBI prayed for transfer of the Narada sting case, the four accused moved the high court seeking recall of its order staying the bail granted to them by the special CBI court.

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, prayed for stay of the order sending the accused to house arrest for one week to enable the CBI to avail of its appropriate remedy.

The court, however, turned down the prayer considering the age and health of the accused, observing, 'We do not find any reason to stay the operation of the order as the accused persons still remain in judicial custody though only the manner has changed.' Counsels representing the accused prayed that since some of the accused are holding high positions and are managing the Covid-19 pandemic in the state, they may be allowed to discharge their official functions for which government officers may be allowed access to them.

The division bench directed that the government officials will not have any direct access to the accused, but permitted them to deal with the files sent to them online and hold meetings through video conferencing.

The CBI has sought transfer of the case alleging extraordinary circumstances wherein West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna in the CBI office after the arrests and the agency not being able to produce the four accused in court physically owing to unruly protests by a large number of people outside its office complex.

The high court on Monday night stayed the lower court's decision to grant bail to the four leaders, arrested and charge-sheeted by the CBI in the Narada sting case.

The division bench had said that it deemed it appropriate to stay the special court's order and direct that the 'accused person shall be treated to be in judicial custody till further orders'.

The sting operation was conducted by journalist Mathew Samuel of Narada News, a web portal, in 2014 wherein some people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours.

At that time, the four arrested politicians were ministers in the Mamata Banerjee government.

The sting operation was made public ahead of the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal. PTI AMR NN NN

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