New Delhi: In a setback to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to interfere with the Calcutta High Court order that asked the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the Narada sting operation.
In the video footage, a number of senior Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders were seen accepting money on the promise of dispensing favours.
The bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul found no infirmity with the High Court order directing inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
However, the court said the "inferences and conclusions" recorded by the high court in its order would not weigh with the investigating agency in the course of its inquiry.
The apex court also relaxed the timeline given by the high court, saying the CBI would complete the inquiry within one month from the date when high court had passed the order.
The court described as "harsh" the 72-hour timeline given by the high court to the CBI to complete preliminary enquiry.
Besides, the bench said that the TMC leaders who approached the apex court would have "ample opportunities" to assail the findings of the inquiry by the CBI.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal government withdrew its appeal and tendered an unconditional apology for casting aspersions on the high court.
The state government withdrew its appeal against the high court's interim order after senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for caveator Brajesh Jha, read a paragraph from the West Bengal government's appeal criticising judges.
The high court order had come on a PIL by Jha.
As senior counsel Kapil Sibal assailed the high court order asking the CBI to undertake preliminary enquiry, the bench said that when the Advocate General of West Bengal says that no cognisable case could be made out from the Narada sting expose then "How can it be given to the police of the State".
What is being apprehended about the state police (it being vulnerable to political pressures) could also be said about the CBI, Sibal told the court as he favoured inquiry by a SIT.
"We appreciated what you say. We can read between the lines. It is not that we don't understand," Chief Justice Khehar said asking Sibal to suggest, going by his experience in the government, "how can we deal with your fears".
As the apex court suggested monitoring by the high court, Sibal said given the high court's existing opinion it would be better not to have monitoring.
However, the court rejected outright Sibal's suggestion for change of bench in the high court.
"No, No, No," the Chief Justice said as Sibal, seeking inquiry by the SIT, urged the top court to change the high court bench as it has already expressed its opinion.
Sibal had appeared for TMC leader Saughata Roy and five others and Abhishek Manu Singhvi had appeared for S. Adhikari who is Transport Minister in the West Bengal government.
Sibal said the PIL petitioners before the high court were BJP leaders.