The arrest of two senior West Bengal ministers, a sitting Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator and a former Kolkata mayor in Narada sting operation case by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday (May 17) has snowballed into a controversy with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee insisting that she too be arrested.
The four — Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, transport ministers Firhad Hakim, TMC MLA from Kamarhati Madan Mitra and former Kolkata mayor and minister Sovan Chatterjee — are likely to be produced in a court later in the day, CBI sources said. However, thousands of TMC workers have gathered outside the CBI’s office in Kolkata’s Nizam Palace, which is likely to delay filing of chargesheet against the four leaders. It is said that the CBI court hearing will be held virtually.
The ruling TMC has termed the move as “political vendetta” of a “vanquished BJP.”
Earlier, the CBI teams raided their houses and took them to its Kolkata office for questioning barely a week after Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar gave a nod to the investigating agency to prosecute them.
The four leaders were arrested soon after reaching the CBI’s office in Kolkata’s Nizam Palace, where CM Mamata Banerjee is presently present. “Our leader (Mamata) has demanded that she too be detained,” said TMC leader and lawyer Anindya Raut.
All of them were ministers in Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government when the alleged scam took place in 2016. Sovan Chatterjee later joined the BJP, but he has distanced himself from the party after being denied ticket in the just-concluded assembly elections. Chatterjee even praised TMC chief after her party’s victory in the elections and alleged that there were some “discrepancies” during the counting that led to Banerjee’s defeat in Nandigram.
Immediately after the news of the arrest broke out, Banerjee went to the CBI office claiming that the actions against her colleagues were illegal and that she would not leave the Nizam Palace until she was arrested too.
She has been camping at the CBI office at the time of filing this report. A large number of TMC workers too have thronged the CBI office, holding a sit-in demonstration demanding the release of their leaders.
Banerjee and her party are terming the arrests of three MLAs illegal as the CBI did not take permission of the speaker before they took the legislators into custody.
“I have received no communication from the CBI seeking my permission to arrest the MLAs,” speaker Biman Banerjee said.
The CBI officials, however, said there was no violation of law as they had the sanction of the governor to file chargesheets against the four. Chargesheets under the Prevention of Corruption Act are likely to be filed against them by the CBI later in the day.
“The central agency’s action smack of the BJP-led Central government’s political vendetta as the party was vanquished in the assembly elections. The CBI is being used now to target our leaders,” said TMC spokesperson Saugata Roy.
The CBI’s role has been questioned as it is yet to take steps against BJP’s legislature party leader in the assembly Suvendu Adhikari and national vice-president Mukul Roy, who were also named in the FIR filed against 2017 against 12 TMC leaders and a police officer. Both of them have been recently elected to the assembly as BJP nominees.
A CBI official said the central agency has not pressed charges against Mukul Roy because they did not find any substantial evidence against him.
IPS officer SMH Mirza was arrested earlier.
The CBI sources said since Adhikari and Roy were parliamentarians at the time of the alleged crime, they needed to get sanction from the appropriate parliamentary authorities to act against the two and five other TMC MPs.
CBI sources said since April 2019 several pleas for sanction against the erstwhile parliamentarians, have been made to Lok Sabha speaker. The pleas are still awaiting approval of the speaker.
It’s, however, learnt that the CBI has not yet approached Rajya Sabha chairman seeking sanction to prosecute Mukul Roy, who was the member of the Upper House when the alleged bribery took place.
All the accused were allegedly seen accepting money from representatives of a fictitious company to provide unofficial favours in a series of sting operations carried out by Mathew Samuel of the Narada News purportedly in 2014.
Meanwhile, the women’s wing of Trinamool Congress has approached the Kolkata police, calling the CBI action as “illegal”.