Action packed proceedings in the Supreme Court on separate petitions linked to politically sensitive cases from Bengal
Two separate petitions on politically sensitive issues related to West Bengal, a state where the BJP is aggressively trying to make inroads by raising the bogey of persecution of its cadres by the ruling Trinamool Congress, came up for hearing before the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AK Sikri, on Tuesday (February 19).
The hearing on a petition filed by advocate and BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia demanding a CBI probe into the alleged murder of three BJP workers in Bengal saw Justice Sikri and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state government, saw a brief, albeit amusing, verbal duel.
As Bhatia noted about the murders, speculating that they were the handiwork of Trinamool Congress cadres, Justice Sikri asked Sibal: “What is happening in West Bengal?” Sibal’s quick response was: “My Lord, what is happening in CBI also”.
The exchange assumes significance in light of the recent political drama that unfolded in the eastern state when a CBI team landed in Kolkata ostensibly to arrest the city’s police commission Rajeev Kumar for not cooperating in the agency’s probe into the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams. The Kolkata police had, in a heavily publicized event, rounded up the CBI sleuths instead and chief minister Mamata Banerjee had sat on a protest dharna alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was “using” the agency to target her in the chit fund scams.
Sibal told Justice Sikri that the goings-on in the CBI were politically motivated to which the judge replied, “I am not being political” and again enquired about what was unfolding in Bengal.
Bhatia’s case related to the mysterious death of 18-year-old Trilochan Mahato of Balrampur village in Bengal’s Purulia district. Mahato was found hanging from a tree on May 30; a poster claiming in Bangla that he was killed on account of canvassing for the BJP in the recently concluded panchayat polls stuck on his back. Two other BJP workers were also found dead in the area following the local body elections which the ruling Trinamool Congress had swept.
Following the brief powwow between Justice Sikri and Sibal, the bench noted that the police records in case of Mahato had dubbed his death as a suicide and a closure report had been filed too. Justice Sikri asked Bhatia whether his prayer was for the court to look into the case and ascertain whether the death was the result of a murder or suicide.
Bhatia asserted that he wanted a fair investigation and claimed that many BJP workers in the state were being threatened. He claimed that Mahato’s post mortem report had not been received as yet. Justice Sikri then told Bhatia to approach the concerned magistrate court and contest the closure report but the petitioner insisted that his case should be heard by the top court.
“Why should our guys be made to run to some other court to file a counter on closure report. A young boy was found hanging from the pole. We don’t care whether it is CBI or an independent SIT, but investigation should be fair. Murders were reported post Panchayat elections,” Bhatia submitted.
Sibal sought to reject Bhatia’s contentions by claiming that a fair investigation had already been completed in the case. “He (Bhatia) is saying no case is registered but the very next day a case was registered. Their family wanted an independent medical enquiry. It was done too. They are saying that no one is transparent – police, medical examination etc. What is this,” Sibal said.
Accepting that the case required a detailed hearing, Justice Sikri posted the matter for further proceedings on Thursday (February 20).
The second case was related to former IPS officer Bharati Ghosh, once a confidante of Mamata Banerjee and now a member of the BJP. Ghosh had moved the apex court seeking protection from arrest in fresh cases registered against her by the West Bengal government.
The bench of Justices Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah granted Ghosh protection from arrest in all cases registered against her and directed the West Bengal government that no coercive action should be taken against the former IPS officer. Ghosh’s petition has been posted for further hearing after three weeks.
It may be recalled that the top court had, earlier, granted Ghosh protection from arrest in seven cases registered against her in West Bengal. However, in recent weeks, three more FIRs have been registered against the IPS officer for her alleged role in incidents of graft and professional misconduct.
The West Bengal government opposed Ghosh’s plea claiming there are clear evidences against her. A transcript of a purported conversation between Ghosh and her personal security officer was also submitted to the court as evidence related to a case of gold extortion.
The apex court had on October 1 last year granted Ghosh protection from arrest in a case of alleged extortion and illegal exchange of banned notes for gold which dated back to 2016.
Ghosh, who was the West Midnapore Superintendent of Police for more than six years, was transferred as commandant of the third battalion of the state armed police on December 26, 2017. She resigned from service two days later. Earlier this month, on February 4, Ghosh had joined the BJP in the presence of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and senior party leader Kailash Vijayvargiya alleging that “thugocracy” has replaced democracy in the West Bengal.
—India Legal Bureau