The Supreme Court Tuesday decided to hear on June 25 the appeals of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the state Law Minister Moloy Ghatak against the June 9 order of the Calcutta High Court which had refused to take on record their affidavits on the CBI’s transfer plea related to the Narada scam case. The appeals, initially listed before a vacation bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, were referred to another bench by Chief Justice N V Ramana during the day itself after Justice Bose recused from the hearing without citing any reason.
A bench of Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheswari, to which the cases were referred, took up the matter in the afternoon. At outset, Justice Saran said that the matters are fresh for the bench and they needed to go through the files before the hearing.
On being pointed out that earlier the top court had requested the high court to defer the hearing till it decides the appeals, the bench said that it would pass the same order urging the high court to postpone the scheduled hearing there on June 23 and wait for two more days. The bench then enquired from Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, and senior Advocates Rakesh Dwivedi and Vikas Singh, whether they will be able to conclude the arguments on Friday. The lawyers answered in the affirmative.
“The Supreme Court had noted earlier on June 18 that the High Court may not take up the matter on 21 and 22. Since the matter could not be taken up today, we hope the High Court will not take up the matter on any date prior to the 25th”, the bench said in the order. The top court was scheduled to hear three appeals including that of the state government challenging the high court’s denial for filing of affidavits by Banerjee and Ghatak in their role on the day of arrest of four Trinamool Congress leaders on May 17 by CBI in the case.
It has been alleged that the state ruling party leaders played a key role in stopping the CBI from performing its legal duty after arresting four leaders in the case. Initially, the state government and the law minister had moved the top court with their appeals and later the chief minister filed her plea against the June 9 order of the high court.
The top court on June 18 had requested the high court to hear the case a day after the apex court considered the appeals of the state government and Ghatak against the order. On June 9, a five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court, hearing CBI’s application for transfer of the Narada sting tape case from the special CBI court to the high court, had said it will decide later on considering the affidavits by Banerjee and Ghatak on their respective roles on the day of the arrest of four leaders in connection with the case.
Senior advocates Rakesh Dwivedi and Vikas Singh, appearing for Ghatak and the state government, had said it was necessary to bring on record of the high court the affidavits as they deal with the roles of the persons concerned on May 17. The law minister was attending the cabinet meeting and was not in the court premises at the time of hearing, Dwivedi had said, adding that even the CBI officials were not there on the spot as the lawyer for the agency addressed the court virtually.
The high court, which on June 9 decided to consider later the affidavits of Banerjee and Ghatak, was urged by the Solicitor General that the affidavits cannot be accepted on the ground of delay as they were filed after the completion of his arguments. The CBI, which has filed an application seeking transfer of the Narada sting tape case from the special CBI court to the high court, has made the chief minister and the law minister parties in its plea there.
It had claimed that while the chief minister had sat on a dharna at the CBI office in Kolkata soon after the arrest of the four accused, Ghatak had been present at the Banshall Court premises during the virtual hearing of the case before the special CBI court there on May 17. Ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI which is investigating the Narada sting tape case on a 2017 order of the high court.
The five-judge bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee, had adjourned the hearing in the matter. The bench had granted interim bail on May 28 to the four accused.
The special CBI court had granted them bail on May 17 itself, but the order was stayed by the high court, which remanded them to judicial custody. They had been placed under house arrest on May 21 by the high court, modifying its earlier order of stay on the bail.
The Narada 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.
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