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Two West Bengal ministers get bail in cash-for-favours scam

Published : 28 May 2021 09:57 PM

UNB, New Delhi 

A higher court in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata on Friday granted bail to two senior ministers in the West Bengal government and two other politicians apprehended by the country's top federal probe agency in connection with a cash-for-favours scam.

The High Court in Kolkata ordered the release of the four politicians -- serving ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, and former ministers Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee -- currently under house arrest, on the condition that they wouldn't interact with the media.

"A five-judge bench has granted interim bail to the four politicians. But they have been asked not to interact with the media in the Narada tapes scandal or in any other case," lawyer Sushanto Roy told UNB over the phone from Kolkata.

The four politicians were placed under house arrest by the High Court on May 21, following a split in a two-judge bench.

The four were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on May 17 for their alleged role in the Narada tapes scandal. They were sent to jail custody that day only after the High Court, in a late-night order, stayed their bail granted by a special CBI court.

On May 17, high drama unfolded in Kolkata as Bengal Chief Minister Mamata staged a five-hour dharna outside the office of the federal probe agency in protest against the "illegal" arrest of her two senior ministers in the Narada tapes scandal case.

Mamata had told the media that the state assembly speaker didn't give his mandatory consent to the arrest of the two Ministers.

While Firhad and Subrata are Urban Development and Panchayati Raj Ministers, respectively, Madan is a legislator of Mamata's ruling Trinamool Congress party. Sovan, on the other hand, is Kolkata's former Mayor. He left the Trinamool in 2019 to join India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, but quit the outfit before the assembly polls.

The two serving and two former Ministers were arrested barely 10 days after Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar approved the CBI's plea to prosecute the four accused in the Narada tapes scandal. 

The Governor then claimed that his approval "is more than enough" for the arrest of the accused as he had presided over their swearing-in ceremony. "Governor accorded sanction for prosecution... being the appointing authority of ministers @MamataOfficial under article 164 and thus competent authority," he tweeted on May 9.

The Narada scandal was a sting operation carried out by a journalist that caught on tape several ministers and senior officials of the erstwhile Mamata government accepting cash bribes in exchange for doling out unofficial favours to a private firm looking to set up business in Bengal.

Earlier this month, Mamata scripted history by single-handedly pulling off an astounding victory in the assembly election. She not only defied anti-incumbency and staved off a huge challenge from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP, but also decimated the Left Front. However, the 66-year-old lost her own seat in Nandigram.

Bengal witnessed the most high-profile contest in India's recently held state elections. While Mamata harped on being Bengal’s daughter, the BJP asked people to vote for "change and socio-economic development" after 50 years of Communist and Trinamool Congress rule.