SC allows CBI to withdraw plea against HC order in Narada case, says does not approve of dharna

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New Delhi, May 25 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday permitted CBI to withdraw its appeal against the Calcutta High Court order allowing house arrest of four leaders, including three from TMC, in the Narada bribery case, and observed that while it did not approve of the 'dharna' against the agency, the personal liberty of accused should not suffer either.

The apex court, which initially made some critical observations on protests by TMC leaders and on CBI's action of arrests after filing of the charge sheet in the case, later said: “We have not made any observations on merits. The (Special Leave) petition (of CBI) stands withdrawn.” A vacation bench of justices Vineet Saran and B R Gavai said: “After the five-Judge Bench of the Calcutta High Court gives its opinion, we will peruse it. We are not intending to pass anything on merits. The Solicitor General (for CBI) has accepted that issue is being heard by the five-Judge bench and made a request that he may be permitted to withdraw the petition to raise all issues raised here before the High Court. All other parties shall also have liberty to raise all such contentions.” The apex court, which heard the CBI appeal for almost an hour, said it did not want to deprive the high court bench the opportunity to hear and decide the case and moreover, it will have the benefit of perusing the judgement of a Constitution bench.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, argued vehemently that the CBI faced engineered mob violence and has not been allowed to perform its duties.

He said the agency wanted transfer of the Narada case from the trial court to the high court and a declaration that the proceedings, which took place before the CBI court, be declared “nullity” in the eyes of law.

“There was an engineered violence by the mob to restrain CBI from conducting the proceedings and the state Law minister to the CBI court and join as a party without notice. The accused admit that the minister was there to show solidarity. The Chief Minister is also part of many such things,” Mehta said, adding it should not be seen and taken as a case for cancellation of bail.

'The law minister was present in court complex during the day and the order granting bail was passed in this situation and this will lead to erosion of public trust and confidence in judicial system,' he said.

The bench said it did not approve of the staging of 'dharna' or sit-in by ministers, but the issue was that can the personal liberty of accused by allowed to suffer.

“Liberty of a person is the first thing to be seen”, and it cannot be mixed with other issues such as Chief Minister's dharna and public protests against arrests made by the CBI, it said.

'We will make it very clear that we do not appreciate the 'dharnas'. But, if the Chief Minister or the Law Minister take the law into their hands, should the accused suffer because of it. You can proceed against those persons who have taken law into their hands,' the bench said.

Senior advocates A M Singhvi and Siddharth Luthra and lawyers Sumeer Sodhi, Kunal Vajani and Debanjan Mandal appeared on behalf of accused. Senior lawyer Vikas Singh represented West Bengal in the matter.

The high court had on May 21 ordered shifting of two West Bengal ministers, an MLA and a former Kolkata mayor to house arrest from jail.

It had modified the earlier order that stayed their bail granted by a special CBI court last Monday when the four leaders were arrested.

It had 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.

A division bench, presided by Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, differed on the issue of recalling the stay on bail to the four accused and a five-judge bench was set up to decide the case.

On May 24, the five-judge bench of the High Court heard the case and refused the CBI prayer to adjourn the matter on the ground that it has filed an appeal in the top court. West Bengal Transport Minister Firhad Hakim, Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI last Monday in connection with the Narada sting tape case that is being investigated by the agency on a 2017 order of the high court.

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 the arrest.

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

The CBI had 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 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. PTI SJK ABA MNL SA