KOLKATA/NEW DELHI: West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar gave his assent to CBI's request seeking sanction for prosecution of four political leaders, including three from the ruling TMC, in connection with the Narada sting case on May 7, two days after Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister for the third time, officials said on Monday.
They said the CBI approached the governor's office seeking permission to prosecute Trinamool Congress MLAs Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee and Madan Mitra as well as former party leader Sovan Chatterjee in view of a 2004 Supreme Court judgement in which the top court had agreed that the governor could give sanction for prosecution.
The officials said that the agency approached the governor's office as the four were ministers in the previous government at time of the Narada sting case in which politicians were purportedly caught taking money on camera.
They said that since the governor administers the oath of office and secrecy to the ministers, his or her office is the sanctioning authority.
The officials said the CBI would also cite a judgement of the Supreme Court in a case related to former Madhya Pradesh ministers Rajender Kumar Singh and Bisahu Ram Yadav in which sanction to prosecution was given by the then governor.
A complaint was made to the Lokayukta against them for having released 7.5 acres of land illegally and they had challenged their prosecution in the apex court.
The top court in its judgement had said, "If, on these facts and circumstances, the governor cannot act in his own discretion, there would be a complete breakdown of the rule of law in as much as it would then be open for governments to refuse sanction in spite of overwhelming material showing that a prima facie case is made out."
"If, in cases where a prima facie case is clearly made out, sanction to prosecute high functionaries is refused or withheld, democracy itself will be at stake.It would then lead to a situation where people in power may break the law with impunity safe in the knowledge that they will not be prosecuted as the requisite sanction will not be granted," he added.
Hakim is the urban development minister in the present state government and Mukherjee holds the portfolio of panchayti raj and rural affairs. Mitra is an MLA and Chatterjee is an ex-MLA, who quit the TMC in 2019 to join the BJP but left the saffron party this year after he was not given a poll ticket.
The officials said that all these leaders were arrested and chargesheeted in a crime that was allegedly committed in the previous tenure, and since all of them were ministers, the sanctioning authority was with the governor's office.
The sting operation was conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada TV news channel in 2014 wherein people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were allegedly seen receiving "illegal gratification" from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of favours, the CBI has alleged.
The agency has alleged that Hakim was purportedly seen to have agreed to accept a bribe of Rs 5 lakh from the sting operator, while Mitra and Mukherjee were caught on camera receiving Rs 5 lakh each. Chatterjee was purportedly seen receiving Rs 4 lakh from the sting operator, it added.
The tapes were made public just before the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal. The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the sting operation on April 16, 2017.