West Bengal

From jail to home-stay for Madan Mitra

Print edition : November 27, 2015

Madan Mitra coming out of the SSKM government hospital in Kolkata on November 1, a day after he was granted bail in the Saradha chit fund scam. Photo: PTI

IN a major setback for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in its investigation into the multi-crore Saradha scam, a city court in Kolkata granted bail to Cabinet Minister Madan Mitra, who has been in prison since December 12, 2014, for his alleged involvement in one of the biggest deposit-collection scams in India.

In February, the CBI charge-sheeted Mitra in a case involving Saradha Realty, in which he was charged under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 420 (cheating) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by a public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Sections 4 and 6 of the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978.

On October 31, Mitra was allowed bail on a personal bond of Rs.2 lakh and was directed by the court to surrender his passport and appear before the investigating officer whenever summoned. He cannot leave the country, but he can venture out of West Bengal with the court’s permission. The developments have left the CBI red-faced, as the judge expressed his displeasure over the fact that the investigating officer did not appear before the court and neither was the case diary presented before it when the bail application came up for hearing.

Mitra’s counsel submitted that the Minister be granted bail as he had spent nearly a year in prison and was unwell, and no depositor had levelled charges against him.

The court also rejected the CBI’s plea that Mitra be denied bail on the grounds that he was an important Minister and was in a position to influence the probe. According to the judge, this was an economic offence and the investigation depended on documentary evidence and not on the popularity of the accused.

Mitra is not only a prominent leader of the Trinamool Congress and the State Transport and Sports Minister but also one of the closest aides of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Even during his period in jail, Mitra retained his Cabinet berth. However, the ruling party’s reaction to Mitra’s release was subdued. The Chief Minister declined to make any comment.

Mitra, who spent eight of his 10-and-a-half-months of imprisonment in a hospital, was declared fit to leave for home soon after his bail came through. The sudden improvement in the Minister’s health upon his release raised eyebrows.

The opposition parties, particularly the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), alleged that an “understanding” between the State government and the Central government resulted in Mitra’s release. “There is clearly bargaining going on between the ruling party at the Centre and the ruling party in West Bengal. What we want is that the money that has been defrauded from the people be returned, and for this we will continue our movement,” CPI(M) State Secretary and Polit Bureau member Surjya Kanta Mishra told Frontline.

Subsequently, the CBI moved the Calcutta High Court, challenging the bail order. On November 5, a vacation bench of the Calcutta High Court, after a hearing, directed that Mitra be confined to his house under police supervision and be allowed to leave his residence only for medical emergencies or interrogation by the CBI. The High Court also questioned the decision of the city court to grant bail to the accused Minister.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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