New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday annulled the Calcutta High Court's June 9 order refusing to take on record the reply-affidavits of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state Law Minister Moloy Ghatak on their role on the day of arrest of four Trinamool Congress leaders on May 17 by CBI in Narada scam case.
A vacation bench of justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari asked the high court to decide "de-novo" the fresh pleas, to be filed by Banerjee, Ghatak and the state government on or before June 28, before proceeding with the main petition of the CBI seeking transfer of the scam case to the high court itself.
"We are of the opinion that the Petitioners (State, CM and Law Minister) ought to have given an application to take their respective affidavits on record especially when the submissions of the parties were going on and had progressed substantially.
"At this stage, suggestion was made by this court that the matter could be remanded back to the High Court to be decided afresh. On the basis of the reasons given in the application which is filed by the Petitioners. Counsel of the parties have graciously agreed..," the bench said in its order.
Taking note of the fact that the high court is scheduled to hear the case on June 29, the bench directed the Banerjee and others to file their fresh applications for bringing on record their replies on or before June 28 after serving advance copies to CBI and other necessary parties.
"The CBI and other parties, if they so desire, may file their counter affidavits to the applications (of CM, Law Minister and the state) by June 29 after serving advance copies of the same by June 28.
"We request the High Court to first decide the applications of Petitioners herein before proceeding to decide the merits. We may further add that as prejudice is caused to the parties, the order of June 9 stands annulled," the bench ordered, adding the issue be decided ''de-novo ".
The CBI has alleged that Banerjee, Ghatak and other TMC leaders had played a key role in stopping it from performing legal duty after arresting four leaders in the case.
It claimed that while Banerjee sat on a dharna at the CBI office in Kolkata soon after the arrest of the four accused, Ghatak had been present at the Banshall Court premises during the virtual hearing of the case before the special CBI court on May 17.
The high court had on June 9 refused to accept the reply-affidavits of the state, the chief minister and the law minister on their role, saying it would consider this aspect later.
Ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI which is investigating the Narada sting tape case on a 2017 order of the high court.
At the outset on Friday, the vacation bench said it would hear the lawyers for five minutes each to decide whether a full-fledged hearing was needed or the matter can be remanded to high court for a "de-novo adjudication".
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Banerjee and Ghatak, said the replies were needed to be taken on record for proper and just adjudication of the CBI's petition.
Bringing the replies on records became necessary as CBI is praying for transfer of the case to the high court by referring to the gathering of people in the trial court complex and outside the CBI office at the time of arrest, Dwivedi said.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the state, said that as per the high court rules, the permission to file affidavit was not necessary and the state sought it as a courtesy which was denied.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, opposed the pleas for bringing on record the replies saying the probe agency had moved a plea for transfer of trial and declaration of proceedings in the trial court, granting bail to the four accused, as nullity on various grounds.
"Trial court had granted the bail. We were unable to produce the accused due to certain circumstances, so we moved to high court," Mehta said, adding that the Advocate General had accepted the notice on behalf of the state on May 27 itself.
"I had objected to the filing of the affidavits saying that they were filed to fill up the lacunae. They have taken a calculated risk..," he said.
The bench however decided to send the issue for de-novo adjudication by the high court.
The CBI, which has filed an application seeking transfer of the Narada sting tape case from the special CBI court to the high court, has made the chief minister and the law minister parties in its plea there.
The five-judge bench of high court, comprising ACJ Bindal and justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Arijit Banerjee, had granted interim bail on May 28 to the four Narada scam accused.
The special CBI court had granted them bail on May 17 itself, but the order was stayed by the high court, which remanded them to judicial custody.
They had been placed under house arrest on May 21 by the high court, modifying its earlier order of stay on the bail.
The Narada sting operation was conducted by journalist Mathew Samuel of Narada News, a web portal, in 2014 wherein some people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours.
At that time, the four arrested politicians were ministers in the Mamata Banerjee government.
The sting operation was made public ahead of the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal.