School jobs scam: SC stays HC order imposing Rs 25 lakh cost on TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee

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The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Calcutta High Court order, which imposed a cost of Rs 25 lakh on Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjee while dismissing his plea seeking recall of a previous order pertaining to probe into the school jobs scam case.

A vacation bench comprising Justices J K Maheshwari and P S Narasimha observed the high court had considered the points raised by Banerjee in his plea but the imposition of cost of Rs 25 lakh was "perhaps not warranted".

"But then, it does not mean that no cost can be imposed at all…. I think the order is a very balanced and fair order," Justice Narasimha observed.

The bench said it will stay the imposition of cost and will hear in July Banerjee's plea against the high court's May 18 order dismissing a petition filed by him seeking recall of a previous order of the high court which said probe agencies such as the CBI and ED could interrogate him in the case.

"Re-list in the week commencing July 10. Till the next date of listing, the imposition of the cost part by the impugned order shall remain stayed," the bench said.

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for Banerjee, referred to the high court order, and said there were "errors apparent" in it.

"We are not doing anything, we are only issuing notice and asking for response," the bench observed, adding that it will post the matter for hearing after the vacation.

On April 28, the apex court had asked the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court to reassign the West Bengal school jobs scam case to another judge, days after voicing displeasure over Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay's interview to a TV news channel where he spoke about the raging controversy.

During the hearing on Friday, the bench observed that after the apex court's order, the matter was assigned to another bench which passed orders on the applications, including those filed by Banerjee.

"The court said so far as the investigation part is concerned, we can't interfere. How far it is wrong?" the bench said.

It said points raised in the applications were considered by the high court which then came to a conclusion that interference was not warranted.

Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate (ED), said the agency has the power to investigate independently and this cannot be usurped.

The bench said both the sides can advance their arguments on the next date of hearing.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for the state of West Bengal in the matter.

"A new trend has started. The state comes in. In Chhattisgarh matter, state came in. In West Bengal matter, state came in," Raju said, adding that it is "collusion".

Banerjee, who was on May 20 questioned for over nine hours by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the probe into the case, has sought the apex court direction that no coercive steps be taken against him by the probe agency.

The TMC leader's name cropped up in a complaint filed by Kuntal Ghosh, a local businessman and an accused in the school jobs scam, where he alleged that central investigating agencies were pressuring him to name Banerjee, who is the general secretary of the TMC, in the case.

The agency's summons had come within 24 hours of the Calcutta High Court dismissing a petition filed by Banerjee seeking recall of a previous court order, which said probe agencies such as the CBI and ED could interrogate him in the teacher recruitment scam case.

Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, had alleged that while TMC leaders who were unwilling to bend were being harassed, BJP leaders who had been involved in various cases were allowed to go scot-free.

The two-time TMC MP from Diamond Harbour was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) twice in the coal pilferage case in the agency's office in the national capital in 2021 and also in Kolkata in 2022.

While the CBI is probing the criminal aspect of the scam, the ED is looking into the money trail involved in the alleged irregularities in school recruitment.

The Times of India

(National)

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