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Narada Case: 5-Judge Bench of Calcutta High Court Adjourns Hearing on TMC Leader's Bail till May 26

Narada Case Calcutta HC TMC Leader

On May 24, 2021, the 5-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court dismissed the hearing on the bail request of 4 West Bengal pioneers arrested in the Narada case till May 26. The matter was referred to a larger bench on May 21, 2021, after clashing perspectives between Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Bindal on the award of interval bail.

In the beginning, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta encouraged the court to defer the hearing till May 26 as the CBI is trying to get the list of the Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court on Tuesday (May 25, 2021). Upon the bench's request, he explained that the SLP was against Justice Arijit Banerjee's order permitting interim bail and also, the order for the division bench asked the accused to be held under house arrest.

Showing up for the accused, senior Advocate and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi expressed, "It is sad and shocking that an investigation office, which calls itself head, has sought for an adjournment when the question of individual freedom is involved".

In addition, senior counsel Sidharth Luthra hailed CBI's choice to not refer to the SLP before the supreme court and added that only a provisional number has been given.

Taking the issue to Singhvi using the word "unbecoming" for the CBI, the Solicitor General stated that the SLP had been given a diary number. He stated that the central agency is qualified to make an appeal to the Supreme Court in the wake of the unprecedented event of CM barging into the CBI office, law minister doing a protest in the court complex, etc. Referencing that the court has three choices to proceed with house arrest, to give interim bail, or at last discard the matter, the HC asked Mehta why the matter ought not to be heard today”.

Accordingly, the Solicitor General reiterated that the hearing ought to be put off so the CBI can appeal to the SC.

Then, West Bengal Advocate General Kishore Dutta objected to Mehta repeatedly saying "CM barged into CBI office" as the state had not been made a party to the plea. After a small break, the latter described the series of events that occurred on May 17 when WB Ministers Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra, and ex-administrator Sovan Chatterjee were captured.

“Specialist General Tushar Mehta said, "The threatening impact of this crowd and the stone-pelting incidents were so much that the physical copy of the case diary couldn't be produced before the Court. We could not argue properly. Ultimately, the request came to be passed."

One of the judges on the bench saw that the HC heard the matter on May 17 based on a "skeletal" application by the CBI looking for a direction that CM Mamata Banerjee and Ministers ought not to interfere with the bail hearing.

However, Mehta stated that the central agency requested to stay the bail request during the hearing after a news streak passed the information that the Special CBI court has granted bail to the accused people.

He also presented that the accused were not arrested earlier during the probe and that the charge sheet has been filed.

Making his submissions, Singhvi stated the question of “whether the HC had effectively used the powers under Section 407 of the CrPC to remain the bail of the accused particularly without hearing them. Also, he asserted that the proper authority had not granted the assent for arrest”.

In an intervention, Justice Mukerji added, "If the power of arrest has not been exercised for more than 7 years, why should they be arrested suddenly now? This is one of the issues". justice Soumen Sen stated that another issue was whether the bail previously granted can stay while exercising powers under Section 407.

Reacting to the Rajya Sabha MP's conflict that facts including the lower court request were suppressed from the division bench, CJ Rajesh Bindal confirmed that they had seen the bail request passed by the special CBI court. Pressing for bail, Singhvi reiterated that there is no flight risk of the accused as they are MLAs and Ministers.

The Advocate General raised issues such as:

  • whether a legal request can be switched on account of perceived law and order issues and the viability of the CBI's prayer to transfer the case to the HC.
  • Whether an investigation agency seeking such a petition on the ground of law-and-order amounts to undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Background 

On May 21, 2021, following a split in the Calcutta High Court Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee hearing the case relating to the bail of four Trinamool Congress pioneers – Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra, and Sovan Chatterjee, who has been in guardianship since May 17 since their capture by the CBI in the Narada Scam case, the matter was referred to a bigger Bench.

Justice Banerjee had passed a request permitting interim bail, while ACJ Bindal had disagreed and expressed that the four captured TMC pioneers should be kept on house arrest, which led to the reference. Likewise, for the time being, the accused were asked to be kept under house capture and were allowed to access files, meet authorities through video-conferencing to permit them to discharge their duties.

The Bench had dismissed the request made by the TMC pioneers' advice for their release on interim bail.

On May 17, 2021, the division bench had stayed the bail granted by the Special CBI Court at Kokata to four Trinamool Congress pioneers - Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee, and Sovan Chatterjee - who were captured significantly by CBI on May 17.

On May 19, 2021, the Bench heard Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for the CBI, and Senior Advocates Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Sidharth Luthra for the captured TMC pioneers. Singhvi and Luthra had appealed for interim bail on the ground that the accused are matured people having comorbidities. The Bench was informed that three of the arrested people were moved to the medical clinic and one of them, Sovan Chatterjee continued to be in prison.

Owing to the inaccessibility of CJ Rajesh Bindal on Tuesday (May 25, 2021), the case was referred to the day after tomorrow (May 26, 2021).

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