The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered a forensic test on the Narada sting tapes, which purportedly caught several leaders of the West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress taking bribes, to be conducted by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) at Hyderabad.
The bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice A. Banerjee passed the order while hearing public interest litigations seeking an independent agency probe into the sting.
The lab has been asked to conduct the test "as expeditiously as possible" but not later than four weeks, and hand over the confidential report to the director of a court-appointed special committee, who would then place it before the court.
The orders comes a day ahead of the crucial fifth phase of the assembly polls involving 53 constituencies spread over the three districts of Kolkata, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly. As many as four of those "caught" in the sting, are in the fray in this phase.
Conducted by Narada News chief executive officer Mathew Samuel, the entire sting was carried using an iPhone and subsequently transferred to a laptop and then a pen drive.
While the phone and the pen drive were handed over to a court appointed three-member special committee, Samuel had refused to part with the laptop, contending the committee needed to deposit the cost of the laptop before he can give them the device.
The bench ordered the director of the special committee to hand over personally, the iPhone and the pen drive to the CFSL Hyderabad director.
Expressing displeasure over Samuel putting up a condition to hand over the laptop, the court directed him to personally handover the device to the CFSL director.
The court had constituted the special committee to take possession of the footage and the recording device from him in Delhi, after Samuel in an affidavit, affirmed there was a "threat to his life" if he came to Kolkata personally to hand over the tapes.
But on learning that Samuel, subsequent to handing over the tapes, had conducted a press conference in the city, Chief Justice Chellur expressed his displeasure.
"If he can attend a press conference here, why can't he then hand over the laptop to the court personally," said Chellur directing that Samuel should appear before the court and hand over the laptop.
With his counsel contending that Samuel' personal appearance before the court may "compromise" the safety of the device, Chellur relented and directed the laptop be handed over the CFSL directly within a week.
The CFSL has been asked to conduct a forensic test to ascertain whether the iPhone, laptop and the pen drive have been tampered/engineered/doctored or are genuine.
"We direct the CFSL director to exercise caution and maintain the secrecy of the tapes as well as the confidentiality of the report. The contents of the report shall not be divulged to the media or any other party and shall be handed over to the director of the special committee," said the bench.
The Trinamool had claimed the tapes were doctored, but opposed the opposition's demand for a scientific test on the tapes released in March.
Both the Communist Party of India-Marist and the Congress welcomed the court's verdict.
The sting operation has been a major issue in the assembly polls with the Left Front, Congress and the BJP collectively gunning for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also the Trinamool supremo.