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Guilty: Bengal’s see-no-evil elite

Calcutta, March 2: For years, Bengal’s Nero-like police, politicians and bureaucrats fiddled when bandhs tormented citizens and prevented them from going to work.

Today, some of the leading lights of that privileged class were handed jail sentences for failing to tackle a mob and ensure that judges and lawyers could work.

Among those convicted by Calcutta High Court today are four senior officials, including the state’s director-general of police A.B. Vohra. They have also been found guilty of misleading the court that had ordered them to break a siege of the Jalpaiguri district court for about a month.

A Congress MLA, a district magistrate, a superintendent of police and an officer-in-charge are among the rest of the unusual names on the list of the accused.

The jail term is only for six months, and the sentence has been suspended for three weeks for appeal in the Supreme Court, an option the government said it would exercise.

Eventually, the convicted may walk free if the appeal is upheld.

But for the countless commuters and patients who have suffered at the hands of mobs during every bandh and rally in Bengal, it will be a consolation — however small that is — to learn that somewhere, someone has held the callous enforcers accountable.

That the state machinery thought little of a judicial order to ensure the smooth functioning of a court also highlights the insurmountable odds ordinary citizens face while demanding official protection from goons who masquerade as political activists.

The jail sentence has struck at the root of the government’s favourite excuse that any action against mobs would inflame passions and trigger a bigger law-and-order problem. Hopefully, the court order will serve to remind the government that upholding law and order also counts as one of its tasks.

The state administration’s inaction amounted to “direct assistance” to the agitators in Jalpaiguri, the two-judge division bench said. “The state administration had butchered the Constitution.”

The protesters, demanding that the high court circuit bench set up in Jalpaiguri start functioning immediately, were preventing judges and lawyers from entering the district court. The years of wait did fan tempers but the blockade continued despite a high court directive to the DGP to clear it.

Other than six months’ simple imprisonment, a Rs 2,000 fine has been slapped on the 18 who were convicted. If they fail to pay up, they face an extra month in jail.

Legal experts welcomed the “historic and bold” verdict. “This is the first time ever that the highest official of a state’s police has been sentenced to jail for not obeying a court’s directive,” advocate Gitanath Ganguly said.

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