The two arrested ministers of the Mamata Banerjee government will have to stay in jail for the fourth consecutive day today along with two others arrested along with them. The Calcutta High Court that had stayed the bail of Subrata Mukherjee, Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra and Shovan Chatterjee granted by the lower court on Monday postponed the scheduled hearing today.
At 11.50 AM, the high court’s website announced that the Chief Justice’s division bench will not sit today due to unavoidable reasons. Among the four, Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim are ministers of Mamata Banerjee cabinet. Except for Firhad Hakim, all the others have been already shifted to hospital after they complained of physical uneasiness.
The cancellation of the hearing dampened the spirit of the TMC leaders as they expected to free their leaders today. Meanwhile, in a significant development, Firhad Hakim has been replaced by Alapan Bandopadhyay, the chief secretary, as the head of the task force formed by the chief minister to fight the covid-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee today held a press conference after attending a virtual meeting of 10 CMs convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the press conference, the chief minister raised the topic of Firhad Hakim, but cautiously. She said, “I’ll not comment as the case is subjudice. But he is one who works day and night. He was working for containing coronavirus. But because of vendetta politics, he is in jail now.”
Mamata Banerjee staged a dharna in the CBI office on Monday, just a couple of hours after the arrest of her ministers. During her stay, a large crowd gathered outside Nizam Palace where the CBI office is situated. Though the CBI court granted bail to tall the four accused, the CBI immediately moved the High Court with a plea that the process of justice had been hampered by the intimidating tactic adopted by the ruling party. On the Monday night itself, the High Court stayed the lower court’s order.
That the High court has not taken the CBI’s allegations lightly was clear during yesterday’s hearing too. The bench asked Abhishek Manu Singhvi a few tough questions including whether ‘pelting stones was a part of democratic protest’.
All the four accused were arrested on Monday by the CBI in relation to the Narada case. The case about a sting operation performed in 2014 by Mathew Samuel. It targeted quite a few important TMC leaders and high ranking police officers. The sting showed many of them accepting bribes in exchange for providing illegal favours. The CBI has claimed that the central forensic lab has certified the video showing the accused accepting bribe as authentic. It has also claimed that the voice samples of the four accused have matched with the voices heard in the video.
Meanwhile, Niladri Bhattacharya, the lawyer of Madan Mitra, has sent an e-mail to the secretary of the chief justice and registrar general of the high court seeking the formation of another division bench to hear the case without delay.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored).