Trinamool Congress leader and former West Bengal minister Madan Mitra was on Friday granted bail by a court here, over 21 months after his arrest in the multi-crore rupee Saradha chit fund scam.
Durga Puja arrived early for Mitra’s family and supporters as people in large numbers celebrated his bail while the ruling Trinamool Congress hailed the court’s order.
Mitra was behind bars since his arrest on December 12, 2014, except for a brief period in October, 2015, when he was granted bail by a lower court. The relief was subsequently cancelled by the Calcutta High Court.
The court of Additional District Judge, Alipore Uttam Kumar Nandy granted Mitra’s bail on twin bonds of Rs 15 lakh each. Besides depositing his passport with the CBI, the court has ordered Mitra to appear before the central agency on a periodic basis.
Indicted of cheating, conspiracy and criminal breach of trust, the former state Transport and Sports Minister was one of the most high profile arrests in the Saradha scam after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the probe.
Describing Mitra as an "influential personality", the prosecution has been opposing his bail plea contending he might hinder investigation and tamper with evidence if not kept in custody.
The prosecution often pointed to Mitra’s stay in a VVIP suite at the government-run SSKM Hospital where he spent a large part of his incarceration period, to reflect on Mitra being an "influential person".
The judiciary, including the Calcutta High Court, have denied him the relief on previous occasions.
Mitra had stepped down as minister on November 19 last year, hours before the Calcutta High Court eventually cancelled his bail granted by a lower court.
With Mitra having resigned as a minister and also lost the assembly polls, his counsels were successful in convincing the court that he was no more an "influential persona".
"He has been in custody for over 600 days but the CBI has been not been able to submit anything against him. Moreover, the "influential tag doesn’t stand good anymore as Mitra is neither a minister nor a MLA.
"The CBI has filed several supplementary charge sheets but there was nothing against Mitra. The court was pleased to grant him bail on two bonds of Rs. 15 lakh each," said Mitra’s counsel.
The only former Bengal minister to have contested the polls from jail, Mitra failed to retain Kamarahati constituency in North 24 Parganas district in the assembly polls. The setback came despite Trinamool retaining power in the state with a landslide margin.
Incidentally, Mitra is also the only Trinamool leader allegedly caught in the Narada sting, to have lost the polls. Five of his party colleagues, who too were purportedly shown accepting bundles of cash, won the assembly polls with big margins.
Welcoming the move, Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee hit out at the CBI.
"Even a murder accused gets bail within a matter of days while Mitra had to remain in custody for 629 days. On behalf of (Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee and the entire party we welcome the court’s verdict and wish Mitra and his family a very healthy life and congratulate his family," said Chatterjee.
"Mitra has always been with the people and the party and will continue to do so. It’s a very joyous day for us," said Chatterjee.
Meanwhile, the CBI is likely to move the Calcutta High Court in appeal against the bail.
"The decision will be taken after studying today’s order," said a CBI counsel.