Advocate-general Balai Ray had a busy day in high court on Thursday. From freeing the Maidan of the fair menace to defending four police officers accused of foul play in the cover-up of a murder, he was in the thick of things.
A court in Nadia had written to Chief Justice A.K. Mathur earlier this year, accusing four police officers of shielding Sheikh Abdul Mandal and six others, accused of sexually abusing and murdering a girl from the same village in Chakdah, Nadia. The chief justice passed on the case to a division bench of Justice Noor-e-Alam Chaudhuri and Justice Arunabha Barua. This bench, in turn, slapped contempt notices on the four police officers and the district court’s general registration officer.
The policemen hauled up by the court were Nadia sub-divisional police officer Prasun Banerjee, Kalyani circle inspector Pranab Datta, then officer-in-charge of Chakdah police station Surajit De and the investigating officer of the case.
To everyone’s surprise, the advocate-general appeared on Thursday before the division bench and proceeded to defend the four policemen. The court adjourned the day’s hearing — to decide on its future move — but not before expressing surprise over the unexpected role of Ray in the case.
Nadia’s sub-divisional judicial magistrate (SDJM) S.C. Das had, apparently, “seen through” a carefully crafted plot to shield main accused Sheikh Abdul Mandal, known to be a local CPM cadre.
According to the original FIR, Mandal and six others were accused of assaulting and then strangulating Shaoli Biswas to death after she spurned repeated advances by Mandal. Biswas was abducted from her house but no one dared resist Mandal and his men, because of their “political clout”. The Chakdah police arrested all seven accused and the trial started in Nadia SDJM Das’ court. The chargesheet was filed by the Kalyani circle inspector and the investigating officer of the case on January 2, 2003.
The first twist in the sordid tale came four days later. On January 6, Mandal told the court that he should be released, as his name was not on the chargesheet. SDJM Das then ordered the general registration officer to look into the matter.
The court official then confirmed to the SDJM that Mandal was right. His name had been dropped from the chargesheet, “under instructions” from circle inspector Datta and sub-divisional police officer Banerjee, the official claimed.
SDJM Das then asked the court official to file an affidavit, stating in writing what he had told the court verbally. The affidavit was filed on January 20.
More drama was in store. A fortnight later, the affidavit and the case-diary went missing from the files, just like Mandal’s name had gone missing from the chargesheet. It was then that the SDJM wrote to Chief Justice Mathur, with the registrar-general of Calcutta High Court as the medium. That the apparently open-and-shut crime case can continue to throw up surprises was proved by the appearance of the advocate-general in court on Thursday. What next'