The CBI on Monday morning went to the Supreme Court to challenge the Calcutta High Court order allowing the house arrest of four political leaders from Bengal – three from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool – in the Narada bribery case. The fourth is a former party leader.
The central agency wants today’s High Court hearing – a five-member bench is scheduled to hear the politicians’ bail plea – to be cancelled.
The High Court, meanwhile, has dismissed the CBI’s request to adjourn its hearing, which began at 11 am.
Those arrested are ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra, and Sovan Chatterjee, who quit the Trinamool to join the BJP before leaving that party too in March. Mr Hakim is a key minister in the fight against COVID-19 in Kolkata, was also allowed to work from home.
This was after a difference of opinion split the two-member bench – acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal ordered house arrest but Justice Arijit Banerjee ordered interim bail.
The court also rejected a CBI request to stay its order – which allowed the four to leave jail. The agency had argued they were influential leaders and could threaten witnesses.
The agency also wants all proceedings to be transferred out of the state.
In dramatic developments last week, central security forces went with CBI officials to the homes of the four leaders, took them to the agency’s main Kolkata office and arrested them.
The arrests sparked massive protests and a furious Mamata Banerjee – who has been made party to the case raced to the CBI’s Kolkata office – daring investigators to arrest her too.
A CBI special court heard the case virtually and granted bail to the four, but when the agency sought the transfer of the case to the High Court, their bails were put on hold.
The Trinamool has questioned the timing of these arrests, which come days after Ms Banerjee’s victory in April-May elections that became a nasty battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The party has also questioned the decision to not prosecute Suvendu Adhikari – a ex-Trinamool member who is now a BJP MLA – and Mukul Roy – another ex-party leader now with the BJP.
The Narada case involves a 2014 sting op by a journalist who posed as a businessman planning to invest in Bengal. He gave wads of cash to seven Trinamool MPs, four ministers, one MLA and a police officer as a bribe and taped the entire exchange.
The tapes were released just before the 2016 assembly elections in the state.