Kolkata: A division bench of the Calcutta high court on Friday ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to immediately launch a probe against a raft of Trinamool Congress leaders from West Bengal, who were seen “receiving illegal gratification” in the form of cash in video footage released a year ago by Naradanews.com, a news portal.
After Mamata Banerjee was re-elected as the state’s chief minister last year, she ordered a probe into Narada News’ sting operation, but justice Nishita Mhatre said in her verdict that it was beyond reason to expect the state police to conduct an impartial probe. In her view, cognizable offences of serious nature had been committed by people in “high public offices”, Mhatre wrote in her order.
“It is very difficult to believe that a fair or impartial…investigation will be conducted by the state police against their masters in government or their own high-ranked officer,” she said in her judgement. Among those seen in Narada News’ footage receiving cash is a police officer of the rank of superintendent.
Rejecting a prayer for keeping the verdict on hold until it was challenged in the Supreme Court, Mhatre and justice Tapabrata Chakraborty asked CBI to conclude a preliminary inquiry within four days and start a case against 12 persons featured in the controversial footage. These included cabinet ministers in the state.
Banerjee reacted to the verdict, saying that it will be challenged in the apex court and that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should not use it as a weapon to take on Trinamool Congress leaders. Her party would hit back if the BJP uses CBI to harass its leaders, she warned.
Welcoming the verdict, Mathew Samuel, managing director of Narada News, said, “It’s a big relief from the police harassment that my people and I have been facing.” Samuel, who is currently recuperating from a surgery in Kerala, said on phone that allegations of extortion and blackmailing had been levelled against him by Trinamool Congress leaders.
Judge Mhatre said in the verdict, “The state police are at best, unfortunately, puppets on a string.”
Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Surjya Kanta Mishra said political interference should not stand in the way of a fair investigation by CBI.
Speaking about the footage, Mhatre said, “Any reasonable person…who cares about ethical behaviour being maintained in public life would have been shocked (to see it).” The footage, she said, was found to be genuine by two forensic laboratories.