The Narada Sting Operation carried out by Mathew Samuel the editor of Tehelka news magazine, which protruded and exposed numerous politicians and senior police officials accepting bribes in the form of cash in exchange of the unofficial favours offered to a company. Sting operations are focused strategic plans which a legal deceptive operation is created to catch any individuals which are suspected and tempted into committing a crime.
Though sting operations are efficient at gathering evidence, they are a less forceful method of not just catching criminals but also obtaining the required arrests. With India's bribery rate being the highest in Asia, it has also been discovered that India has a greater percentage of persons exploiting personal connections to acquire government services, at 39 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
Mathew Samuel the former managing editor of Tehelka created a cover as a high official of a fictitious company Chennai based for which a fake identity was created all along the social media and an Aadhar card in the name of Santhosh Snakaran was acquired. On March 13, 2016, the footages of prominent politicians Saugata Roy, Mukul Roy, Suvwndu Adhikari, Prasun Banerjee and state ministers Iqbal Ahmed, Madan Mitra accepting alleged bribes in the form of cash in exchange of illicit favours for the Chennai based firm Impex Consultancy was released on the website of the Narada News.
The tape also shows Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee's nephew, and Sujay Bhadra, the Member of Parliament's personal assistant. These films caused a tremendous uproar in the run-up to the assembly elections, and the TMC leaders rejected the sting operation, calling it a conspiracy.
On March 17 2017, the Calcutta High Court ordered CBI to undertake the preliminary inquiry and submit a report after taking into the custody the devices used in the sting operation within 72 hours. The Trinamool Congress Party filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court challenging the High Court’s order of CBI probe.
The Supreme Court upheld the order of the High Court on March 21, 2017 granting the CBI agency to conduct preliminary enquiry.
While Samuel first stated that K. D. Singh, a Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP and a key Tehelka proprietor, was uninformed of the operation and a "lone wolf," he later reversed his claims, stating that Singh was fully aware of the operation and actively backed it.
According to him, the operation's budget was first set at $2,500,000 (equivalent to 2.8 million or US$40,000 in 2019 dollars), but owing to a large increase in the number of potential targets, it was subsequently increased to $8,000,000 (equivalent to 9.0 million or US$130,000 in 2019 dollars).
The State took due cognizance of the incidents of the events and initiated the first legal proceedings on June 17, 2016 and ordered a probe by the Kolkata police. The State of West Bengal and the accused asked for an investigation by the state investigation team or by a special investigation team constituted by the State Government, though the petitioner insisted on a probe by a Central Agency. The local police accused of heckling Samuel the editor of the Tehelka news magazine after he was summoned him for the alleged extortion rings and interrogating him over the sting issue.
The opposition parties Indian Congress Party and BJP filed three public interest litigations in the High Court of Calcutta demanding an impartial probe by a central agency. The State initiated its own probe by booking Samuel under multiple sections of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as; Section 469 – Forgery to Harm Reputation where the offender shall be liable for a term of a years and may extend to three years with fine.
Section 500 - Defamation where offender shall be liable for a term of imprisonment which may extend to two years, or fine, or both.
Section 120(B) – Criminal Conspiracy where offender shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards.
The High Court stayed the probe of the West Bengal State Police on the grounds that the police cannot undertake a concurrent probe along with a court monitored investigation for ad infimum.
On 18 March, 2017, disciplinary proceedings was initiated who was found receiving gratification for personal favours to private person against a high ranking police officer S. M. H. Meerza; who was the only person to have been subjected to punishment by the state of all those who were trapped in the video tape.
The CBI was duly directed to probe into the case after the High Court raised doubts on the impartiality of the probe being initiated by the West Bengal Police as the footage was authorised and certified authentic by the Central Forensic Laboratory meanwhile the West Bengal Government objected the CBI handling the case.
A bench of the High Court presided by the Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre the findings of the sting and the legality of the Samuel’s actions cannot be subverted on the methods used and thus an investigation by an impartial agency is imperative. An appeal was filed to the Apex Court by the State Government to stop the indulgence of the central agency which was rejected by the Supreme Court allowing the investigation to be continued.
On April 17, 2017, CBI registered a case under Section 7 & 13(2) r/w 13(1) (a) & (d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Against the 12 Trinamool leaders for criminal conspiracy, the CBI filed the FIR (First Information Report) under Section 120 (B) of the IPC.
The Enforcement Directorate also took due diligence of the same thus running a parallel investigation and registered a case on the issuing multiple summons to the accused and the Samuel.
The Enforcement Directorate lodged a case under Anti-Corruption Act under Section 7, 8, 9, where if any public servant is found to accrue undue advantage shall be punishable for a term which shall not be less than three years and may extend to seven years with fine.
An Ethics Committee was also set up to initiate a probe by the Lok Sabha as the members of the Parliament were also involved in the sting operation for the breach of privilege of the concerned house and only sat after the incident occurred.
Aparupa Poddar who claimed innocence of having any ulterior motive has confessed to have received bribe and has claimed to have worked under the advice of Iqbal Ahmed. A. Meerza conceded to the veracity of the tape and claimed to have donated the money for charitable purposes. Mukul Roy now the national Vice president of BJP was seen to have asking Samuel to visit the party office to surrender the promised cash though not caught in accepting the bribes in the footage.
In the current scenario of events, the Calcutta High Court rescinded the bail granted to the TMC leaders and was arrested but later were granted them a bail by the CBI Court who included two ministers, a MLA and a former Kolkata mayor. The West Bengal governor granted CBI permission which came within 24 hours the sworn as ministers.
Subsequently, the Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered house arrest of the four political leaders by the bench comprising of Justice Arijit Banerjee thus hearing the case following the prayers from both the sides.
On 24th May, 2021 the CBI agency as approached in an appeal against the Calcutta High Court to the Supreme Court which directed the house arrest of the four leaders putting them in judicial custody.
On 28th May, 2021, the Calcutta high court granted temporary release to four top West Bengal legislators on Friday, ending their eight-day house imprisonment.
A five-judge panel ordered the four accused leaders to post ₹25,000 bail bonds with two sureties in the same amount. The defendants - ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, TMC politician Madan Mitra, and former Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee - have been ordered not to grant any press interviews or make any public statements in connection with the matters pending before the court.
With an overwhelming majority, the AITC government was re-elected. This was declared by Mamata Banerjee in her victory speech following the elections as confirmation of the party's credibility.
Despite Indian media expectations, the sting operation during the 2016 assembly elections appears to have had minimal influence.
With the Anti-Corruption Act in effect the accused if found guilty would be liable for an imprisonment of maximum seven years and fine if the charges are proved against the politicians being a public servant in office power. Though the legality of sting operations has caused some ethical concerns over the Narada sting operation, the footages were verified of the authenticity by the Forensics, the status of Suvendu Adhikari the current BJP leader who accepted 5 lakh rupees is ambiguous as no arrests has been made thus defeating the essence of Prevention of Corruption act and showcasing the arbitrary powers of BJP led Central Government.
Author Aathira Pillai Dr. D. Y. Patil College of Law