The Calcutta High Court today asked the CBI to submit a report within 72 hours on a sting operation that showed senior Trinamool Congress leaders accepting bribes.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday suffered a huge setback as the Calcutta High Court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into bribery allegations against top Trinamool Congress parliamentarians and ministers.
Acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice T Chakraborty ordered the CBI to complete a preliminary inquiry within 72 hours and file an FIR, if necessary. The allegations – running into several crores – were first unearthed in a purported sting operation by Naradanews.com last year.
“The respondents hold high position. State police are mere puppets. I direct the CBI to conduct inquiry without delay,” the bench said. “This is a case where the jurisdiction of high court must be exercised.”
The probe sets the stage for fresh confrontation between Banerjee – who emerged as the fulcrum of anti-BJP protests over demonetisation – and the Centre. This is the third big scam – after the Saradha and Rose Valley scandals – that involves top Trinamool leaders.
The Naradanews sting operation was aired just a fortnight before the 2016 West Bengal assembly elections and featured a dozen Trinamool leaders purportedly accepting cash from the representative of a fictitious company. Six Lok Sabha MPs of the party, three top state ministers and the mayor of Kolkata were seen as taking money on behalf of the party.
The timing of the ‘expose’ triggered a torrent of allegations from Mamata Banerjee who described it as a conspiracy. The Central Forensic Science Laboratory has ruled that the videos were genuine.
But despite the criticism, Mamata won a sweeping victory in the assembly elections that followed. The Trinamool Congress is the fourth-largest party in the Lok Sabha and has a sizeable presence in the Rajya Sabha.
The Trinamool is already facing embarrassment over the imprisonment of two Lok Sabha MPs, Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Tapas Paul in connection with the Rose Valley scam that involves about Rs 15,000 crore — six times larger than the Saradha scandal of 2013.
The Mamata Banerjee government struck back at the CEO of Naradanews.com, Mathew Samuel. Kolkata Police slapped criminal charges against him and summoned him for interrogation. But the court ruled that the police cannot take steps against him as the matter was being heard.