In various movies, web series, serials especially in the crime-related genre, we have witnessed sting operations. A sting operation is conducted by any competent authority or any person in a deceptive way to catch a person committing a crime. The Narada Scam Case was a result of a sting operation conducted by the Narada news in the State of West Bengal. It was mainly done to expose the corruption practices by some of the influential persons and the ministers of the ruling government. The operation was executed by Matthew Samuel. Matthew Samuel was the editor of Tehelka magazine. He resigned from there and opened his own venture in West Bengal i.e. Narada News. Previous to the sting operation of Narada Scam, he had also executed ‘Operation West End’, which eventually led to the resignation of four senior ministers of the National Democratic Alliance as they were convicted by the Court. The Narada Sting Operation was conducted in 2014 and was published on Narada news which is a private website. This operation was executed just before the West Bengal assembly elections of 2016. This operation created huge agitation among the State widely. Several protests had taken place after the release of the Narada Sting operation video on the internet.
The Narada sting operation was executed in West Bengal for a period of almost two years. In this operation, Matthew Samuel formed a fictitious company i.e. Impex Consultancy Solutions. The operation was executed in such a manner that few persons under the name of this fictitious company approached several ministers, MPs, leaders, and influential persons of the ruling government. After approaching, they had asked them to do some favors in place of money. The video footage of this entire operation was 52 to 56 hours long. It was observed in the video that some of the ministers, influential persons, leaders of the ruling party of West Bengal received a generous amount of cash from the persons who were acting as representatives of Impex Consultancy Solutions, in this operation. This entire operation was photographed by Matthew Samuel himself and his colleague Angel Abraham.
In the 52 to 56 hours long video, various known faces of the Trinamool Congress Party, State cabinet ministry, Vidhan Sabha, Parliament were allegedly caught on camera. The then TMC MP Mukul Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Sougata Roy, Aparupa Poddar, Prasun Banerjee, then TMC member Suvendu Adhikary, Late Sultan Ahmed who passed away in 2017, State Ministers- Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, Subrata Mukherjee, Iqbal Ahmed, Sovan Chatterjee (who is now not a member of TMC) were evidently seen accepting alleged bribes in form of cash and in return promising to do favors for the fictitious company. The then-IPS SMH Mirza who is now suspended was also seen in this video accepting cash. Shanku Deb Panda, a leader of TMC was also seen in this video asking for the shares of the fictitious company in lieu of doing some favors. However, Mukul Roy was not seen in the video, expressly receiving cash, but had asked Matthew Samuel to meet him in his then-party office with the promised cash. Matthew Samuel Also stated that K.D. Singh, who was a Rajya Sabha member of TMC and many members of Tehelka magazine, had the knowledge of this operation. According to Samuel, the entire operation was funded by them. On an initial basis, the budget of the Narada sting operation was decided to be Rs. 25, 00,000 but it was later owing to the needs increased to Rs. 80, 00,000. However K.D. Singh denied any kind of involvement in this operation.
The sting operation, as stated above, was executed just before the assembly elections of West Bengal, thus it was believed that it would affect the position of the ruling party. However, it was proved wrong. Respected Mamata Banerjee was re-elected as the honorable Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2016. The Trinamool Congress once again with a majority was re-elected as the ruling State government of West Bengal. Trinamool Congress party won 211 seats out of 294 seats in the assembly elections of West Bengal.
After the release of the video of the Narada sting operation, the State government initiated its own probe into this case. The order was initiated by the honorable Chief Minister of West Bengal on the 17th of June. Matthew Samuel, during this investigation of the Kolkata police, was booked under various sections. The sections are:
- Section 469 of the Indian Penal Code deals with forgery for purpose of harming the reputation
- Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for defamation
- Section 120(B) of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for criminal conspiracy.
However, the High Court of Kolkata delivered a stay order on the ongoing investigations of the Kolkata Police into the Narada case. The High Court delivered so on the basis that parallel investigations of court and police might lead to inconsistency of reports in respect to the same case, and also can create huge confusion, eventually creating unfair circumstances in the proceedings.
In 2017 a PIL was filed in the High Court of Kolkata, by Brajesh Jha along with Akshaya Kumar Sarangi, Amitava Chakraborty, and few others. According to the petitioners, they have filed the PIL on the basis that in the State after the release of the video an alarming situation has been observed in the State widely. The situation was turning fearful as the video consists of such people who hold high public offices in the government. The petitioners stated that if the allegations of corruption against such high officials are true in a sense, strict actions should be taken against them and if the accusations are deemed to be false then the person who has tried to defame such high officials must face the strong course of actions. They stated that this PIL was filed as public-spirited citizens on the basis of the voltage that was telecasted in various electronic media such as television news channels, the internet, and newspapers. The petitioners further stated that they had filed a complaint in Shyampukur police station, Kolkata as the persons who were seen in the video receiving money were deemed to
- cheat the public
- breach their trust, faith, and confidence
- Wrongfully gain to oneself and do wrongful loss to the public at large.
The petitioners further stated that they had even submitted and mailed a complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation or known as CBI and Enforcement Directorate or known as ED so that appropriate steps can be taken against those persons in accordance with the law. The petitioners stated that the state police might not be able to do the investigation impartially as the persons against whom the investigation is being instituted are very influential and thus many shreds of evidence and reports might get tampered with and also extraneous influence can happen on the investigation. The petitioners prayed before the High Court that the court must order CBI and ED to investigate in regard to this case for fair investigation and proceedings. They also prayed that the persons against whom the investigations are going on should not contest in the assembly elections of West Bengal of 2016 until they are declared clean.
The High Court then ordered Matthew Samuel to produce the details of the videotapes like on which device it was shot, where stored etc, and also an original version of the video recordings. In a fresh affidavit, Samuel did as per the order. Matthew Samuel stated in the affidavit that the video was recorded in an iPhone and was transferred through a pen drive into the laptop. The mobile phone, pen drive, hard disk of the laptop was taken into custody by the High Court. These three devices were sent to the Director of Central Forensic Science Laboratory or known as CFSL, Hyderabad in order to check whether the contents of the video were genuine or not. However, CFSL, Hyderabad stated that it did not have enough facilities to check the genuineness of the whole video footage. Thus it was transferred to CFSL, Chandigarh. The reports were received by the Court; however, it was not made available to the public for some security and special reasons.
Meanwhile, the respondents of this case Brajesh Jha and others v Union of India and others, have questioned the oppositions on the grounds that the petitioners
- Have no locus standi of filing this petition as it was made in personal and political interest and not in the public interest
- No cause of action was present to file such a petition
- No cognizable offenses have been committed by any of the respondents
- Cannot ask for investigation as no FIR was lodged against them
The respondents further stated that the video recording was released almost two years after it was shot, thus, it was under suspicion of the genuineness of the video and also questioned the legality of the sting operation in India.
The High Court on the issues of locus standi stated that the petitioners have filed the PIL after seeing the video recordings on news channel where ministers, leaders, high officials of State were seen taking cash in lieu of doing favors. Thus, if the depiction is a legal wrong and it has hurt the trust and sentiments of the public at large. Thus filing this petition is not beyond the public interest.
The High Court also looked into the issue of ‘no investigation because of no FIR’. The Court held that the petitioners have only sought to have an inquiry into the case and check the genuineness of the video recording. Thus, no investigation because no FIR stands without merit and contrary to the Lalita Kumari case.
The High Court also stated that as per the statements and affidavit of Matthew Samuel, it is quite evident that it was a sting operation. However, the legality of it will be addressed later and it does not affect the legality of this petition as the petitioners have filed this as many of the known faces observed in this video were also contesting for the 2016 Assembly elections.
The High Court also stated that under certain special situations, in virtue of Article 226 of the Constitution, the High Court has the power to order for a preliminary inquiry and can also order CBI to conduct it. The Court also stated that one of the respondents is a high official rank holder of State police thus investigations might have extraneous influence.
Finally, the division bench of Calcutta High Court ordered the CBI to conduct an investigation into the case immediately by taking into consideration the CFSL reports of Chandigarh. The inquiry should be done within 72 hours and on the basis of it an FIR should be made, and eventually, they should start proceeding as per law. The Court also directed the State to take immediate disciplinary actions against Mirza.
In regard to the order of the High Court of Kolkata, the state government moved to the Supreme Court in order to seek a stay order on the order of the High Court. However, the Supreme Court allowed the order of the High Court.
In 2017, the CBI instituted the First Information Report against the twelve TMC leaders. They were booked under
- Section 120(B) of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for criminal conspiracy.
- Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
- Section 13(1D) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
- Section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Enforcement Directorate also ran a parallel investigation into the case and filed a case for misappropriation of public funds under the Anti Corruption Act. As the members of Parliament were also involved an ethics committee also investigated into the case.
In 2019, SMH Mirza, an IPS officer was arrested by CBI in regard to the Narada scam case that happened in 2016. He was the first one to be arrested in this case. However, in November 2019, he was granted bail by a special CBI court on the ground that his son was ill and he had been in custody for 55 days.
In 2016, 2017, the Narada case remained in the spotlight for quite a large amount of time. However, slowly the case lost its spotlight and people started to forget about it due to a long investigation. Though in 2019, a suspended officer was arrested, yet a lot more inquiry was still remaining as per the CBI. The year 2020 was a devastating year due to the pandemic, therefore, a lot of systematic ways of executing investigations or conducting trials were stopped temporarily for nationwide lockdown. But the case again came into the spotlight, just after a few days of the enormous victory of the TMC in West Bengal in the 2021 Assembly Elections. In May 2021, the Governor of West Bengal Jaydeep Dhankar on a request by the CBI permitted the prosecution of four popular persons including ministers. Ministers of West Bengal, Firhad Hakim, and Subrata Mukherjee, MLA Madan Mitra, and ex-mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the CBI from their respective houses in regard to the Narada scam case.
After the arrest of the four persons, huge unrest happened in the State of West Bengal. People came out of their houses and started to protest against CBI and the Governor. The Nizam Palace was surrounded by multiple people especially by the supporters of TMC. Outside Raj Bhavan, huge protests took place. However, all the leaders and the CM herself have tried to control the protests and have requested them to abide by the lockdown norms and not do any protest. After such a request, they slowly stopped any gatherings. The honorable Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, immediately after their ( Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, Sub rata Mukherjee, Sovan Chatterjee) arrest, went to the Nizam Palace and stated that if they were not released, the CBI should also arrest her. She also stated the arrest was illegal and not in accordance with the law. The issue was also raised that the CBI has not considered any communications with the speaker of the Vidhan Sabha and also whether the Governor has the right to give any such sanctions. The Governor, in return, through his officer, stated about his power in virtue of Article 164 of the Constitution.
On the very day of arrest, the arrested persons were produced before the High Court. The High Court at first hearing decided to grant them interim bail. However, an extraordinary situation was observed and the CBI filed a writ petition application before the Calcutta High Court. The petition was filed on the ground that the number of people gathered was almost 2000 to 3000; stone-pelting also took place, and also stated that the Chief Minister sat on Dharna. Thus, to have a proper investigation, CBI requested to take the persons in custody and by virtue of Section 407 of CrPC transfer the case to a different State. The High Court held that owing to the circumstances the accused persons would be taken into judicial custody till further orders and the transfer of the case will also be taken into consideration in the next hearing. The four accused were taken into custody.
In the next hearing, the division bench of Calcutta High Court gave a dissected opinion on the Narada case. Honorable Justice Banerjee was in favor of granting interim bail to the accused, however, the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court gave a different view. Thus, the court ordered the accused to be on house arrest instead of judicial custody.
However, the CBI moved to the Supreme Court to stay the house arrest order. The Supreme Court held that they will allow the five-judge bench of Calcutta High Court to first deliver the judgment on this case. They also stated that dharnas are not permitted on any account against the arrest of the four persons by CBI. No one can take the law into their hands. The Apex Court also added that the liberty of the accused should also not suffer due to such protests. The Supreme Court also permitted CBI to withdraw its appeal against the house arrest order.
The five-judge bench of Calcutta High Court comprises honorable Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, honorable Justice Harish Tandon, honorable Justice IP Mukherjee, honorable Justice Arijit Banerjee, honorable Justice Soumen Sen. The large five-bench judge granted interim bail to the four accused persons i.e. Firhad Hakim, Madan Mitra, Sub rata Mukherjee, Sovan Chatterjee. They granted the bail on the condition of Rs 2 lakh surety given by each of the accused, and no one is allowed to give any press interview related to the Narada scam case and also not interfere with any investigation. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the order on the grounds of their influence and power. The High Court, in this regard, questioned the Solicitor General that why they were not taken into custody during the investigation in the past four years. Finally, they were granted interim bail.
Corruption is a big threat to the development of society and an enemy to democracy. This disrupts the trust of the common man in the government officials. It also hampers the economy and decreases a sense of fairness in society. Corruption can be tried to stop by revising the anti-corruption laws and bringing some new amendments. In every office, a separate body for anti-corruption should be made to control the evil practices of corruption. Above all, a person should be honest and not indulge in any evil practices of corruption. Often, it is observed that psychology grows where people think by being honest one gains nothing in this world and gets influenced by bribery practices, but people should not do that. Regarding this case, we must have faith in the judiciary system and the investigation bodies and we should look forward to the decisions delivered by the court.
Author: Smaranika Sen from Kolkata Police Law Institute.