Two senior West Bengal ministers of Mamata Banerjee's cabinet and a key leader of ruling Trinamool Congress, who were arrested earlier today in a five-year-old case relating to a sting operation on bribery, were granted bail by a special court in Kolkata.
Transport and Urban Housing Minister Firhad Hakim, Panchayati Raj Minister Subrata Mukherjee, TMC legislator and former minister Madan Mitra and ex-TMC leader and Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) this morning after being picked up by the probe agency from their residences.
However, the special CBI court in Bankshal in Kolkata granted bail to Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee. All four were produced at the court by CBI through video conferencing.
A CBI team, along with central security forces, reached the residences of the two TMC ministers and the two other leaders and picked them up.
According to CBI, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee and Madan Mitra were caught on camera accepting wads of currency notes in the sting operation conducted by a news portal's Editor-in-Chief Mathew Samuel from New Delhi in 2014.
The video tapes were released ahead of the assembly elections in the state in 2016.
An infuriated Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached the CBI office in Kolkata's Nizam Palace and reportedly said "the way they have been arrested without due procedure, CBI will have to arrest me also".
Mamata also held a six-hour sit-in demonstration in front of the office of the DIG of CBI on the 14th floor of Nizam Palace.
As Mamata staged the sit-in, hundreds of TMC workers gathered at the CBI office in Nizam Palace in south Kolkata, despite the ongoing state-wide lockdown due to rising Covid cases, and hurled stones and bricks protesting the arrest of the three senior TMC leaders.
The TMC activists, many of them without masks, also staged protests against the arrests of Hakim, Mukherjee and Mitra outside the Raj Bhavan, the official residence of Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar. Reports of street protests by TMC workers also came in from several other parts of Bengal.
Dhankar earlier this month gave CBI permission for prosecution of Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee.
Referring to the street protests beamed by TV channels, Dhankar accused Kolkata Police and West Bengal police of being "mute onlookers" and appealed to them to act and restore law and order.
"Total lawlessness & anarchy. Police and administration in silence mode. Hope you realise repercussions of such lawlessness and failure of constitutional mechanism. Time to reflect and contain this explosive situation that is worsening every minute," Dhankar tweeted.
Hakim and Mukherjee are now ministers of Mamata's cabinet with transport, urban and housing and panchayati raj ministers portfolios respectively. Mitra was not included in the ministry after TMC won a landslide victory in recent assembly poll.
Sovan Chatterjee has snapped his ties with both TMC and Bharatiya Janata Party, which he had joined in 2019.
All four arrested today were ministers in the previous Mamata Banerjee government when the Narada bribery tapes were shot in 2014.
Mathew Samuel, a journalist from Delhi, came to Kolkata, posed as a businessman planning to invest in Bengal and gave cash to seven Trinamool MPs, four ministers, one MLA and a police officer as bribe and taped the entire operation.
West Bengal Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee dubbed as "illegal" the arrest of Hakim, Mukherjee and Mitra in the Narada case on the basis that the governor's sanction was "unlawful."
"I have not received any letter from CBI nor has anybody sought permission from me as per the protocol," Biman said. "I do not know for what unknown reason they went to the governor and sought his sanction."
The CBI will on Monday file the charge sheet against five accused, including three TMC leaders arrested earlier in the day, in the Narada sting case wherein politicians were purportedly caught taking money on camera, officials said.