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Lawyer watch on Munna grilling

- New public prosecutor’s nod to plea with play-by-the-book defence
Saba Iqbal and the new prosecutor, Shyamadas Ganguly, outside Alipore court on Thursday. Pictures by Bibhash Lodh

A nod from the prosecution on Thursday paved the way for Alipore court to allow a lawyer’s presence during the CID’s interrogation of murder accused Mohammad Iqbal alias Munna, an order some court veterans called “unprecedented” in recent history.

“Although the lawyers representing Iqbal made a fiery presentation, the order went in favour of him only because special public prosecutor Shyamadas Ganguly did not object to the plea…. This is unprecedented,” a senior lawyer said.

A similar plea had been made in the case against CPM legislator Sushanta Ghosh, arrested on the charge of murder. On that occasion, the court had turned down the request for the presence of a lawyer during his interrogation after the CID protested.

Ganguly, appointed special public prosecutor in place of Naba Kumar Ghosh on Wednesday, was unavailable for comment. The CPM had questioned his credentials after the announcement with the former mayor and advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya saying he wouldn’t be surprised if “Shyamadasbabu….goes timid in the Garden Reach case”.

Sources close to Ganguly said he followed the rule book.

But senior police officers couldn’t recall an instance in recent years when a murder accused was allowed to be interrogated in the presence of his lawyer. “There is a provision in the law to allow a lawyer to accompany the accused during interrogation. But it has never happened in recent times that we have interrogated a murder accused in the presence of his lawyer,” a CID official said.

Acting chief judicial magistrate Suparna Roy passed the order around 8.30pm, almost four hours after the hearing concluded. Apart from pleading for a lawyer’s presence during her father’s interrogation by the CID, Iqbal’s daughter Saba had sought permission to meet him in police custody and requested that he be given proper food and medicines.

The court asked Saba to name the lawyer who would be present during the interrogation by Friday but didn’t accept the other requests.

“I am an apolitical person and I know that it’s going to be a long, lonely battle. But I am prepared to scale the Himalayas for my father,” Saba told Metro.

During their arguments before the magistrate, the lawyers representing Iqbal had raked up the infamous Bhagalpur blindings of 1979 and 1980, when the police had poured acid into the eyes of 31 accused. The episode was fictionalised in the 2003 film Gangaajal.

“As members of the legal fraternity, all of us must be aware of what happened in Bihar’s Bhagalpur when acid was poured on several accused inside police lock-up,” argued lawyer Ashok Mukherjee, representing Iqbal.

When the magistrate sought Ganguly’s views on the demand for a lawyer during interrogation, he said: “If there is a provision under law then I have nothing to say against this demand for a lawyer. I can’t go beyond the law but it should be ensured that there is no intervention in the interrogation process.”

A section of legal experts said Ganguly could have argued against it by saying that the presence of a lawyer during the interrogation would seriously hamper the investigation.