Kolkata/ Nagpur: In the rarest decision, Calcutta High Court on Thursday ordered that Bengal transport and sports minister, Madan Mitra, who is an accused in the Rs 2,500-crore Saradha Chit Fund scam, be placed under house arrest, informed media reports.
The significance of the verdict is that while CBI won’t be able to take the minister into custody, Mitra too will not be free to move around. No outsider can meet him either. When he returns home from a private hospital where he is currently admitted, he will stay indoors under police surveillance. Police will also guard him in the hospital.
Mitra was granted bail on October 31 by a lower court after spending 324 days of incarceration.
The ruling is so rare that even senior advocates in Kolkata could not remember anybody put under house arrest in the state after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1941 when he staged his famous escape.
The decision came after the vacation bench of Joymalya Bagchi and Mir Dara Sheko heard the CBI petition opposing the bail of the minister that was granted by the lower court. The bench also said it is an interim arrangement and the final decision will be taken by a regular bench. The next hearing of the case is on November 17.
The only other instance where Mitra can step out of his home is if CBI wants to take him out for investigation purposes.
“Till the next hearing, Madan Mitra will not be able to leave his home, or meet anybody at home or hospital,” said his advocate.
On Thursday, the division bench also questioned the wisdom of the lower court in granting bail to the minister.
When hearing began, the CBI counsel argued that Mitra is an important and influential person who certainly wields enough clout to influence witnesses and the course of the investigation that involves thousands of crores of rupees and the future of lakhs of depositors.
Sixty-one year old Mitra was admitted to a private hospital in Alipore on November 2 after he complained of uneasiness and breathlessness. Barely 36 hours ago, he was declared fit by state-run SSKM Hospital authorities. The decision to discharge the minister was taken hours after the Alipore court granted bail to Mitra.
He spent more than 80% of the preceding 324 days – December 12, 2014 to October 31, 2014 – in Woodburn ward of SSKM Hospital as he was too ill to stay in a jail.
Mitra is the only serving minister in Bengal to be ever arrested in any case. Mitra’s bail gave the ruling Trinamool Congress big political relief before the 2016 Assembly elections.
On Thursday, the CBI counsel told the court that on October 31, the bail was granted without the CBI’s position being stated. The investigating officer was not present in town and the case diary too could not be presented in court.
On August 6, Calcutta high court had rejected Mitra’s bail plea when he hired Kapil Sibal to argue his case. It had then observed that Mitra is an influential person who can easily influence people and the course of investigation. On Thursday, the division bench observed that there was no material change in the situation.
In fact, earlier, Mitra’s advocates had told the high court that if need be (for the sake of the bail), he could resign from the minister’s chair.
On Monday, Mitra signed two files of the transport department and met some of his close friends and associates at home.