Calcutta High Court: The Division Bench of Rajesh Bindal, CJ(A). and Arijit Banerjee, J., was called upon to deal with an extra-ordinary situation where Chief Minister of the State can sit on a dharna outside the office of the Central Bureau of Investigation (‘CBI’) along with her supporters, which had investigated the case and was to present a charge-sheet in court against the accused who are senior party leaders of the party in power in the State, some of them being Ministers. Law Minister of the State was also present in Court where the accused were to be presented along with mob of 2000 to 3000 supporters.
Y.J. Dastoor, Additional Solicitor General of India had submitted that a a letter of request has been sent by the CBI on official e-mail id of the Chief Justice of this Court and the Registrar General pointing out certain glaring facts regarding the manner in which the Chief Minister, Law Minister and other senior Ministers of the Government in the State of West Bengal along with their supporters in thousands were obstructing CBI in discharge of its official duties. A case was registered in terms of the order passed by this Court in WP No. 5243(W) of 2016 under Sections 120B IPC, Sec. 7, 13 (2) r/w 13 (1) (a) & (d) of the P.C. Act 1988 against number of accused. The allegation against them was that they had accepted substantial amount of illegal gratification from Mathew Samuel, a sting operator.
The accused were arrested on 17-05-2021 in the morning and were to be produced in the court of CBI Special Judge (I) Kolkata. Immediately after their arrest, as they are political leaders of the party in power in the State, number of followers gheraoed the CBI office in Nizam Palace area and did not allow the CBI officers to move out of their office to enable them to produce the accused in court. The matter did not end here. The Chief Minister of West Bengal-Smt. Mamta Banerjee also arrived at the spot at 10.50 hours and sat on dharna along with the mob. Unconditional release of the accused was sought from the CBI office itself. It was under these circumstances that the matter was mentioned before this Court immediately in the after-noon today seeking a direction to the State to allow the CBI to discharge its function and enable them to produce the accused in court.
The prayer made by Mr Y.J. Dastoor was treated as filed on the judicial side, before this Bench on the day itself however it was mentioned that proper pleadings shall be brought on record by 19-05-2021.
Mr Kishore Dutta, Advocate General counsel for the respondent submitted that Nizam Palace where the CBI Office was situated, the major part of it is protected by Para Military Forces. Whenever any senior leader of the party is arrested, supporters always collect there. Senior police officers along with 100 police officials were on duty and no untoward incident was allowed to happen. CBI officers were provided full protection by the local police for discharge of their duty and there was no official complaint filed by the CBI with the police about any incident.
The Court observed that the facts of the case were not disputed; it was claimed by Mr Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India that the Chief Minister was demanding their unconditional release but the fact that she was present there and some supporters were also there, was not denied by Advocate General. The Court found that the Law Minister remained in the Court complex throughout the day till the arguments were heard. In these facts and circumstances if any order is passed by the Court the same will not have faith and confidence of the people in the system of administration of justice. Confidence of the people in the justice system will be eroded in case such types of incidents are allowed to happen in the matters where political leaders are arrested and are to be produced in the Court. Public trust and confidence in the judicial system is more important, it being the last resort.
The Court opined that the given facts and circumstances were sufficient to take cognizance of the present matter with reference to the request of the Solicitor General of India for examination of the issue regarding transfer of the trial. The Court deemed fit to stay the bail order of the Court below and directed that the accused person shall be treated to be in judicial custody till further orders.
[CBI ACB Kolkata v. Firhad Hakim, 2021 SCC OnLine Cal 1629, decided on 17-05-2021]
Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
For the Petitioner : Mr Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, Mr Y.J. Dastoor, Addl. Solicitor General of India
For the State Respondents : Mr Kishore Dutta, Advocate General, Mr Abhratosh Majumdar, Addl. Advocate General, Mr Sayan Sinha