|G Kiran Kumar (left), the Malda DM who has been arrested; K Jayaraman, the Siliguri police chief who has been shifted
Nov. 30: A district magistrate was arrested today on corruption charges, triggering the transfer of the Siliguri police commissioner, prompting the chief secretary to acknowledge embarrassment and fuelling undercurrents of a skirmish between two arms of the civil services.
Chief secretary Sanjay Mitra held a news conference to announce the removal of the police commissioner who ordered the arrest of Malda district magistrate and IAS officer G. Kiran Kumar.
Kumar, who recently earned the chief minister’s praise, is the first district magistrate to be arrested in Bengal in recent memory.
He was arrested in Siliguri in connection with alleged corruption in the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) during his tenure as its chief executive officer. Kumar has been sent to four days’ police custody.
“We have arrested him in connection with the SJDA case,” said K. Jayaraman, the commissioner of Siliguri Metropolitan Police.
As soon as the news reached the state secretariat, Mitra and home secretary Basudeb Banerjee went into a 40-minute huddle with Mamata Banerjee, after which the chief secretary called a news conference and criticised Jayaraman’s action.
Mitra announced that Jayaraman had been asked to hand over charge to the inspector-general (north Bengal) and return to Calcutta. He added that Jawed Shamim, deputy inspector-general (Jalpaiguri range), would act as Siliguri police commissioner for the time being.
“This (the arrest) was highly embarrassing. We feel that the arrest of the Malda district magistrate was not required and the Siliguri CP (commissioner of police) had exceeded his brief,” the chief secretary said.
“Before taking any action against a senior officer, the state administration has to be informed and permission obtained. The CP did nothing of that sort.”
Mitra, however, took care to explain that the government was not defending or exonerating Kumar in the corruption case but was only saying that he should not have been arrested in this manner.
“An arrest could have been made if the suspect was likely to abscond or tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses. None of this applied to the district magistrate,” Mitra said.
Sources at Nabanna, the new state secretariat, said Jayaraman had arrested Kumar at 4pm and, around 10 minutes later, texted the development to home secretary Banerjee and director-general of police G.M.P. Reddy, catching both by surprise.
Kumar and several others, including senior government officials and Trinamul leaders, are accused of involvement in payments of around Rs 100 crore to private construction firms and suppliers even though the projects for which the funds had been earmarked were incomplete.
Ten people, including four SJDA engineers and representatives of private firms, had been arrested before Kumar.
But the corruption case took a back seat today as Kumar’s arrest became the talking point at Nabanna, spawning suggestions of a power play between the administrative and police arms and even a Trinamul faction fight. Police sources defended Jayaraman.
“The Siliguri police commissioner is an able and experienced officer. There were criminal charges against the district magistrate and some people had already been arrested on the same charges. So, Jayaraman did what he should have,” a senior IPS officer said.
Some IAS officers, however, accused Jayaraman of having gone overboard to prove the supremacy of the police.
“He (Kumar) was accused in a white-collar crime and there was no need to arrest him without permission from the authorities,” a senior IAS officer said.
“Electoral roll revisions are on. During this period, the district magistrates, who act as the district election officers, are on deputation to the Election Commission and cannot even be transferred. But here we see that a district magistrate has been arrested.”
Some blamed Trinamul infighting for the arrest of Kumar, who was lauded by the chief minister for his efficiency during a recent administrative meeting in Malda.
Kumar, who was the SJDA’s chief executive officer from August 2011 till March this year, has faced the corruption charges for some time but was still given the key posting in Malda.
“Trinamul’s north Bengal unit has had problems with Kumar because of his proximity to one of the party’s most important leaders. A party lobby had put pressure on Jayaraman to pursue the case, which resulted in the arrest,” a Trinamul insider said.