Wednesday, December 6, 2023

West Bengal post-poll violence: Calcutta HC orders CBI probe, major setback for Mamata Banerjee

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In a major setback for the Mamata Banerjee government, the five-judge Supreme Court bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justices IP Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar on Thursday ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged cases of murder and crimes against women during the violence that followed the elections in West Bengal.

This follows recommendations on the same by the NHRC team that visited trouble-torn areas. A court order was needed, because the state government has withdrawn its permission to CBI to probe new cases in West Bengal. Over and above, the court also ordered that other post poll violence-related cases will be investigated by a Special Investigation Team (SIT).

The court order said: “All cases as per the report of NHRC committee, where allegations are about murder of persons or crime against women regarding rape or attempt to rape shall be referred to CBI for investigation.”

The Bench also decided on the composition of SIT. Three IPS officers of West Bengal cadre – Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranvir Kumar, will make up the SIT. The working of the SIT will also be overseen by a retired judge of the Supreme Court.

Both investigations will be monitored by the Calcutta High Court, but an order on SIT findings will be given later, following consultation with the retired top court judge, who will be in charge.

The bench also ordered the state to hand over all records of cases to CBI. To the chagrin of the state administration and to the delight of NHRC and, of course, the Bharatiya Janata Party, vanquished at the hustings, the court is viewing the issue with utter seriousness. The court made it clear that it will not tolerate any obstruction in the probe process.

“It shall be a court-monitored investigation and any obstruction in the course of investigation by anyone shall be viewed seriously,” said the Court order.

The case moves out of the five-judge bench and will now be handled by a Division Bench, said the court. The next hearing is set for October 4.

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The court will also deal with the issue of a complaint against Kolkata Police Deputy Commissioner (South Suburban), Rashid Munir Khan. The complaint was of inaction and non-registration of complaint made by Atif Rasheed, vice-chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities and also a member of the NHRC team probing the violence.

The court asked the policeman to showcause why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him, despite the court’s clear instruction that the team should be given full protection by the police. This issue, however, will be dealt with later.

Atif Rasheed had alleged that he and his team members were attacked while visiting the Jadavpur area of Kolkata. However, Rashid Munir Khan had said that no police complaint was lodged by Rasheed or any NHRC member.

The bench was unanimous in their orders on the issue, though three separate judgments were delivered. The judgments concurred.

The issue has been taken out of the overall context of other related issues that are now being dealt with by the same court – after the Supreme Court sent it back to the Calcutta High Court – and appeals and complaints from people who had been allegedly chased out of their homes and not allowed to return are being dealt separately.

Also Read: Supreme Court refuses to quash CBI FIR against Anil Deshmukh

To this end, the court had, on May 31, formed a three-member committee, whose purpose was to rehabilitate persons displaced in the post-poll violence. That committee comprised Member Secretary of West Bengal State Legal Services Authority (WBSLSA), the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and the NHRC.

From the report garnered, what the court got was this: “The number of persons reported to have suffered as per complaints received is 3,243. In a number of cases, the complaints were referred to the concerned Police station, but no response was received.

“This inaction by the police had purportedly resulted in the court also directing the NHRC intervention, with necessary security. The view of NHRC was that there was the “law of ruler,” instead of the “rule of law.”

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