By LE Desk
New Delhi, June 18, 2021: The Supreme Court today asked a five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court hearing the Narada sting case to defer the hearing on Monday till it decides on the question of allowing West Bengal Chief Minister and Law Minister to file their affidavits in the pending matter.
The West Bengal government had approached the Supreme Court to oppose a Calcutta High Court decision on June 9 refusing to accept affidavits by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Cabinet colleague Law Minister Moloy Ghatak in a matter where the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI) accused them of leading a mob soon after the agency arrested four prominent Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders in the Narada sting case.
A Vacation Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian agreed to take up the matter on Tuesday. On being informed that the High Court will be continuing with the hearing of the case on Monday, the bench said, “We hope that the High Court will not take up the matter on Monday and Tuesday”, the Hindustan Times reported.
In their separate appeals before the Supreme Court, the WB government and Ghatak said the order deprives them of putting the truth before the HC in order to refute CBI’s allegations.
The HC in its order said, “They (Chief Minister and Law Minister) have waited for the arguments in the case to be substantially completed before seeking to place on record their pleadings in response. It is nothing else but filling the lacunae or supporting the accused”, reported Hindustan Times.
The five-judge bench of the High Court passed the order while hearing an appeal by the CBI seeking shifting of the Narada sting trial from the Special CBI court to High Court.
The agency had claimed that on May 17, the West Bengal Chief Minister led a mob to the CBI office in Kolkata and staged a dharna to protest against the arrests. Later in the day, the Law Minister was accused of leading a mob of over 2,000 people at the trial court which granted them bail. Even the bail granted to the four accused was challenged by the agency. Both matters were heard together by a five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court.
West Bengal in its appeal said, “The impugned order deprives the petitioner of the right to be heard, right to respond, and affects its right to access to justice, and is in violation of law.” The petition stated that on two occasions, CBI filed affidavits to improve its case without taking permission of the Court.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh who appeared for the state told the apex court that the affidavit was ready for filing on June 7, well within the four-week time allotted to parties under the High Court Rules. “Just as a matter of courtesy we had asked the High Court. We were not supposed to ask as Rule 38 of High Court Rules gives me the right to file an affidavit”, HT said.
Ghatak, on the other hand, denied the CBI claim that on May 17 he was present in the trial court. Explaining his presence in Bichar Bhawan Court Complex, Ghatak explained that he came there to attend a meeting with the Public Prosecutor and panel lawyers to discuss reconstitution of panels for the new government. Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi who appeared for him said it is unfathomable that the petitioner would be present in an empty courtroom as the hearing that day took place virtually.
The High Court while denying permission for filing of affidavits held that arguments were at the verge of conclusion and any order at this stage would delay proceedings. The state found this statement “erroneous” as only CBI had concluded arguments while eight other parties were yet to commence arguments.
The Narada case involved a sting operation conducted by a journalist who approached the accused persons for favours in return for money. The sting was telecast on a channel Narada News just before the Assembly polls in the state in 2016. A year later, the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe into the entire case.
On May 17, CBI filed the charge sheet and arrested two state ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee along with two former state ministers Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee in connection with the case.