CBI withdraws appeal in SC against Calcutta HC order placing TMC leaders under house arrest

During the hearing, SC also observed that special benches are usually constituted to protect liberty, but in this case the opposite happened, referring to Calcutta HC cancelling TMC leaders’ bail

Supreme Court of India (File photo)
Supreme Court of India (File photo)

NH Web Desk

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday chose to withdraw its appeal against a Calcutta High Court order of May 21 by which four senior All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders including State ministers, were granted the benefit of house arrest instead of being lodged in jail under judicial custody after their arrest in the Narada scam.

A Bench of Justices Vineet Saran and BR Gavai also did not take a favourable view of the CBI's argument that the atmosphere in Calcutta due to conduct of TMC ministers could have had a bearing on grant of bail by special CBI court on May 17, Bar & Bench reported.

"We are not passing anything on merits. SG has accepted that the issues are being looked into by a 5 judge bench of Calcutta HC. Thus, permission is sought to withdraw the plea and raise all such issues before the high court. All other contentions remain open. All other parties shall also have liberty to raise such contentions before the high court. it is clarified that we are not passing any order on merits," the SC ordered after the CBI chose to withdraw its plea.

During the hearing, the court made some observations regarding the order passed by a special Bench of Calcutta High Court late evening on May 17 by which the bail granted by special CBI court that same day to the accused was cancelled.

The Supreme Court observed said that special benches are usually constituted to protect liberty unlike in this case wherein the opposite happened.

"Special bench is assigned to protect liberty. This is for the first time that a special bench was assigned to take away the liberty," remarked Justice Gavai.

Representing the CBI, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the conduct of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other top leaders of TMC after the CBI effected the arrest of accused had vitiated the atmosphere and the order of special CBI court granting bail could not be sustained on that ground.

While Banerjee had gone to CBI office with her supporters and sat on a dharna, the state law minister had gone with his followers to the special CBI court complex, he said.

The Bench, however, disagreed with the Solicitor General, stating that those incidents involving actions of TMC ministers have to be seen separately and cannot influence grant of bail to the accused.

"We have to see if bail has to be granted or not. For other issues, other remedies are there. Take action against such officials," the court remarked.

"We also have been tried to be pressurized. I was hearing a anticipatory bail plea in Aurangabad in 2013 and mahila morcha people came inside court. Police asked me to not to pass orders but I passed orders in open courtroom," Justice Gavai recounted.

Justice Gavai also stated that he feels "judiciary including our district judiciary cannot be influenced by mobs."

"We don't want to demoralize our judiciary across the country," said Justice Gavai.

The Solicitor General added that judges are "only humans."

When SG Mehta pressed on the point that the ‘dharna’ by the Chief Minister and the presence of the law minister in CBI court influenced the bail order granted, the top court clarified that "liberty of the accused has to be seen in bail plea. Action of others will have to seen later."

The four leaders, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI on May 17.

A special CBI court had granted them interim bail that evening but it was stayed by the High Court the very same day, the order being pronounced after 10 pm.

The stay was granted after the CBI sought a transfer of the case from the court dealing with the same, while also citing a threat to the probe agency on the ground that TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and TMC ministers were sat on dharna outside the agency's office at Nizam palace ‘causing obstruction to justice and creating an atmosphere of fear’.

The CBI had also alleged that the state law minister along with his supporters had thronged the special court complex which heard the bail plea of the four leaders.

The matter was then heard on May 19 at length by the Calcutta High Court. The hearing remained inconclusive and was expected to continue on May 21. However, the judges on the Division Bench, Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee, disagreed on the aspect of grant of interim bail to the four accused.

The High Court, therefore, decided to refer the matter to a larger Bench.

In the meanwhile, as an interim measure, the Division Bench directed that the four TMC leaders be placed under house arrest, in terms of the order outlined by the Supreme Court in the case of Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima Koregaon matter.

This prompted the present appeal by CBI before the Supreme Court.

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