CBI free to separately proceed against her and other TMC leaders for allegedly barging into its offices on May 17, it says
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to let the CBI use West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s “siege” of and “dharna” at the premier investigating agency’s premises as a pretext for curbing the personal liberty of four TMC leaders arrested in the Narada sting tapes case, forcing the CBI to drop its appeal for their custody.
A Bench of Justices Vineet Saran and B.R. Gavai said the agency was free to separately proceed against Ms. Banerjee, her Law Minister Moloy Ghatak and other TMC leaders for allegedly barging into its offices on May 17. But it would not allow their alleged actions hurt the rights of the accused, presently under house arrest.
“Take it that we do not appreciate of dharnas and all… But if some Chief Minister or Law Minister takes law into their hands, should the accused suffer? We do not like to mix the issue of liberty of citizens with whatever illegal acts of politicians… We will not do that,” Justice Gavai addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI.
Mr. Mehta replied, “But they [CM] were doing it from them [accused]”.
Justice Gavai observed, “So, therefore, you proceed against the (CM, Law Minister) for attempting to take the law into their hands… … You have yourself quoted Lord Denning’s ‘Be ye never so high, the law is above you’.”
Mr. Mehta said, “I used to believe in that”.
“Well, we still believe in it!” both Justices Saran and Gavai said in unison.
The law officer said the incident suggested a larger malaise in the State. The role of the investigating agency was “reduced to nothing”.
“This is an extraordinary situation. There was a complete collapse of rule of law, and this is happening repeatedly… CBI offices with the arrested four men was in a state of siege on May 17. Unruly mobs pelted stones. Officers could not step out to produce the accused before the magistrate… If these facts cannot move My Lords’ conscience, there is nothing more I can say,” he expressed his disappointment.
Five-judge Bench hearing
The Bench, which refrained from commenting on the merits of the case, reacted to this by pointing out that a five-judge Bench of the Calcutta High Court was already “examining every factor regarding the case” following a split verdict on the question of bail.
“Let them decide, we will have the benefit of the decision of five judges. Why did you come to us? You see, as you know, High Courts and the Supreme Court are on equal pedestals. Both are constitutional courts,” Justice Gavai addressed Mr. Mehta, who had also sought a transfer of the case to some place outside West Bengal.
“If we transfer the case, it will demoralise the High Court,” Justice Gavai said.
Mr. Mehta submitted that the State had a Chief Minister who has a “track record” to “bring out supporters”. He said the bail was granted to the four men earlier by a CBI court in a vitiated atmosphere with the Chief Minister sitting outside in dharna.
Justice Gavai replied, “We don’t think our judiciary, even the district judiciary, is so weak.”
When the CBI argued that the four accused would influence witnesses in the “comforts” of their house arrest, the Bench replied there were “two sets of accused in this case”.
“One set is those against whom charge sheet has been filed. The other set is those against whom charge sheet has not been filed. Now, tell us, who of the two is more influential?” Justice Gavai asked.