The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday (June 30) directed that the affidavits filed by the West Bengal government, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Law Minister Moloy Ghatak in connection with the CBI’s transfer application of the Narada sting tape case be taken on record subject to payment of a token cost of Rs 5,000 each. A five-judge bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal ordered that the money be deposited with the State Legal Services Authority within a week. The bench, also comprising justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee had earlier not taken on record the affidavits by the state, the chief minister and the law minister owing to delay in filing them.
Annulling the High Court’s June 9 order refusing to take reply-affidavits of the state, its chief minister and the law minister, the Supreme Court had on June 25 urged the five-judge bench to decide afresh their pleas before deciding on the probe agency’s petition seeking transfer of the Narada case from the special CBI court here to the high court. Three appeals including one by the state government were filed before the apex court challenging the high court’s denial for filing of affidavits by Banerjee and Ghatak in their role on the day of the arrest of West Bengal ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee on May 17 by the CBI in the Narada sting case.
The CBI has made the chief minister and the law minister parties in its transfer application. It claimed that while the chief minister had sat on a dharna at the CBI office here soon after the arrest of the four accused, Ghatak had been present at the Bankshall Court premises during the virtual hearing of the case before the special CBI court there on May 17.
Following the apex court’s order, the state government, the chief minister and the law minister filed fresh applications on Monday for filing affidavits. The CM prayed that she be permitted to file affidavit-in-opposition in response to petition and affidavits filed by CBI and treat the same as part of the record. The state government and the law minister also filed similar prayers separately.
The bench directed that as there must be certain allegations in the pleadings filed by the state, the chief minister and the law minister, the CBI will be entitled to respond to the same and also any other affidavit-in-opposition filed by other respondents, within 10 days. The court adjourned the matter till July 15.
Lawyers representing Banerjee and Ghatak submitted that as there are allegations against the applicants in the pleadings, these need to be replied to, in order to put the record straight.
They claimed that even otherwise, they are not accused in the case.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing the chief minister and the law minister, said that even subject to payment of cost, the affidavits may be taken on record. Opposing the prayers, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta submitted that in this case there are allegations that the state has failed to discharge its duty in maintaining the law and order and against Banerjee and Ghatak who are not accused but hold high positions in the government. He told the court that the allegations should have been replied to at the very first opportunity.
Mehta submitted that filing of a reply especially after arguments in the matter were substantially completed would only be doctored with legal advice and would be a calculated move to mislead the court.
The five-judge bench had granted interim bail on May 28 to the four Narada scam 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. The High Court ordered a CBI probe into the Narada sting tapes case in 2017.