Netai residents clap as Trinamul leader Subhendu Adhikari speaks in the West Midnapore village on Friday. Picture by Samir Mondal
Calcutta, Feb. 18: Calcutta High Court today handed over the Netai firing case to the CBI, dissatisfied with an “impotent” CID’s “failure” to “lay its hands” on the CPM leaders who had “masterminded” the massacre of nine people and criticised the state government for “shielding the culprits”.
A division bench’s searing questions also brought to light that the key accused had confessed that the instructions to open fire were issued by the CPM’s Lalgarh local committee.
The court’s ruling and observations deal a body blow to the Left Front government a day after the chief minister accepted that police’s credibility had suffered against the backdrop of the murder of a boy while saving his sister in Barasat.
In comments that are certain to make the government squirm in ignominy, the court felt that the CID would not be able to carry out the probe “fairly and impartially”.
The division bench of Chief Justice J.N. Patel and Justice A.K. Roy asked advocate-general Balai Ray “why the CID had not even interrogated the members” of the CPM’s Lalgarh local committee” although it had mentioned in its report that one of the arrested accused, Abani Singh, had “confessed” that the January 7 firing “was following the instructions” of the committee.
Singh, himself a member of the local committee, was arrested on Monday. When Ray pointed out that Singh had not named anybody, the court became furious. “Then why all the leaders and members (of the committee) have not been arrested yet? Why were they not even interrogated?” the chief justice asked.
In its judgment, the court observed that the CID and the local police “had the information” that the “local committee members of the CPM were involved in the incident”. The court said it had “no hesitation in coming to the conclusion” that the CID had “not been able to carry out the probe beyond this point as the suspects are members and leaders of the ruling party”.
“We fail to understand what prevents the CID from laying its hands on the root of the problem and reach the CPM leaders. So, in our view, the CID will not be able to carry out the investigation fairly and impartially,” the judgment says.
The court said the CID and the local police were “acting like the impotent”. Chief Justice Patel said the CID “did not arrest the culprits even though it had the information that the CPM’s Lalgarh local committee had masterminded the crime”.
The court directed the CID to make such arrests by Monday. When advocate-general Ray said it would be impossible for the CID to conduct interrogation and arrests in such a short span and prayed for a week’s time, the court decided to deliver the judgment today.
Concluding that “no further time should be wasted with the CID”, the high court directed the state government to hand over the case “forthwith” to the CBI and “extend all positive assistance to the central investigating agency”. The court said it would monitor the progress of the investigation and directed the CBI to file a progress report in a fortnight.
The bench accused the state government of “shielding the culprits” because they were “CPM leaders”. The judges asked Ray about the source of the arms that were used during the Netai firing. When Ray failed to give a satisfactory answer, the court remarked: “It is strange that the party is funding the armed camp but it has no idea where the arms are coming from.”
The court’s “impotent” jab gains significance in the light of the fact that only yesterday, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had stressed the need to rebuild the people’s confidence in the police”. The chief minister’s comments came after 16-year-old Barasat resident Rajib Das was stabbed to death when he tried to save his sister from armed goons even as five policemen at the nearby bungalows of top officials refused to help.
Chief secretary Samar Ghosh said at Writers’ Buildings this evening that the state government would go through the judgment and “ascertain if there is enough ground for us to move the Supreme Court”. Ghosh said the government “had faith” in the CID’s capability to conduct the investigation.
PWD minister and RSP leader Kshiti Goswami chose to play down the court order, saying the “truth must be unearthed, whether the CID investigates or the CBI”.