Narada sting case: Trial court proceedings vitiated by pressure tactics, CBI tells Calcutta HC

Judge says peaceful protests allowed under Constitution

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is probing the 2016 Narada sting case, on Tuesday told the five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court that the May 17 proceedings in the trial court were “vitiated by pressure tactics never before seen in this country”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the CBI, was referring to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee arriving at the CBI office after three TMC leaders, including her two ministers, and former mayor of Kolkata were arrested by the CBI.

The trial court had granted bail to all the four TMC leaders, but the order was stayed within hours by a Division bench of the High Court.

“I am not seeking cancellation of bail. I am saying proceedings itself of the special court are vitiated… If I am seeking cancellation of bail, I have to show grounds like the possibility of destroying evidence etc. That is not my argument,” Mehta told the five-judge bench, which is hearing the CBI’s plea to transfer the trial from the trial court to the High Court.

“This is a matter of seminal importance. It is for the first time in this democracy and possibly in any democracy that some Constitutional functionaries laid siege to an investigation agency’s office which was investigating a case on this court’s order. Your Lordships decision, in this case, will have a far-reaching impact and could go a long way in the body politic of this country,” he added.

Claiming that the TMC workers’ protests outside the CBI office on May 17 was not an isolated incident, and several such incidents have happened in the state “where high Constitutional functionaries resort to threat and intimidation”, Mehta said: “Here it was engineered and planned efforts to put pressure on the system and court. The proceedings before the special court were therefore vitiated by pressure tactics never before seen in this country. The effect of terror engineered outside the CBI office and court had an effect not only on investigating agency but also on the administration of justice.”

To this Justice I P Mukherjee asked the Solicitor General, “Peaceful protests and assembly is allowed under our Constitution. It is allowed against executive action. So how does it create an impression in a common person that such a protest will influence judiciary?”

Justice Soumen Sen also asked, “The hearing was on a virtual platform. He had no information that there were somebody outside. Will that influence the judge?”

Mehta said, “The judge might not have been aware. It is not necessary for a judge to be aware and be biased. The test is what a reasonably informed common man would feel about the proceedings.”

Then I P Mukherjee said, “If so, your counsel could have asked for an adjournment of proceedings?”

Mehta said, “The court should not restrict to the bail order alone… This was engineered and orchestrated, and the accused benefitted from it. The crowd outside the special court dispersed only after bail was granted (to the accused).”

The five-judge bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee, adjourned the hearing in the matter till Wednesday.

The five-judge bench granted interim bail on May 28 to ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who were arrested on May 17 by the CBI, which is investigating the Narada sting tape case on a 2017 order of the high court.

The special CBI court had granted them bail on that day itself, but the order was stayed by the high court, which remanded them to judicial custody. The Division Bench then referred the matter to a larger bench of five judges following differences between Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee over granting interim bail.

The four were 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 in 2014 wherein some people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were seen receiving money.

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