Bhangaberia bridge, from where the police had fired at land protesters in Nandigram in 2007
Calcutta, Jan. 31: The Bengal cabinet has approved a proposal to recommend the withdrawal of all cases police had filed against land acquisition protesters in Singur and Nandigram between 2006 and 2009.
The final decision to withdraw the cases involving as many as 4,300 people rests with the courts.
The attempt to protect the foot soldiers who fought the most decisive battles in Trinamul’s onslaught on the Left citadel comes at a time the CBI has drawn the chief minister’s ire by chargesheeting 166 protesters in Nandigram. The cases the cabinet took up today did not deal specifically with these 166 accused.
As the state government would not be able to play any role in the CBI probe into the 2007 firing in which 14 persons were killed, it has cleared a proposal by the judicial department to appeal in courts for withdrawal of cases Bengal police had lodged against other land agitators.
The cabinet approved the proposal to withdraw 303 Nandigram cases against 4,000 people and 122 Singur cases against 300 people. The courts will have the final say on the appeals.
Sources said the Mamata government was of the opinion that the land agitators, whose movement was key to Trinamul coming to power and who have been facing “harassment for years” because of the cases against them, had been “framed” by the erstwhile Left dispensation.
The sources said chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who yesterday accused the CBI of being partisan while conducting the Nandigram probe and stood by the land acquisition protesters, had taken the decision to set in motion the process of withdrawing the cases.
“A report has been submitted against six lower-level police officers (in the 2007 firing case). We want all the guilty to be punished. The senior officers have to be punished first. Action will be taken against the senior officers who opened fire on the instructions of Buddhadebbabu. The (land) protesters will know what to do if action is taken against them,” Mamata had said at Brigade.
Public prosecutors will file pleas in the courts where the Nandigram and Singur cases are being heard, seeking to withdraw the cases.
“The Left government had filed several cases against the land acquisition agitators in Singur and Nandigram. We feel all the cases are fabricated. So we have decided to withdraw them and give relief to the innocent people,” a minister said.
Only the case relating to the police firing in Nandigram on March 14, 2007, is under the CBI as the high court had instructed the central agency to probe it. All other land agitation-related cases in Singur and Nandigram are being investigated by the state police.
“Whatever is happening with the CBI probe is hurting us in rural areas. As the other cases are still continuing, our supporters are facing a lot of legal hassles,” another minister said.
The CBI is conducting two probes into the firing — one related to the role of the villagers and the other to the police.
The minister said the government had neither granted the CBI permission to prosecute three police officers nor accepted its recommendation of departmental proceedings against three others. “The CBI wants to file a chargesheet against six officers but we have prevented it from doing so because the agency was lenient on senior officers and politicians,” he said.
As the CBI did not face any such resistance while taking steps against the protesters, it has chargesheeted the 166 villagers. Although the police had accused the villagers of firing at and bombing law-enforcers, the CBI has found their involvement in brick-batting.
Even though the CBI has diluted the charges against the agitators, it has embarrassed Trinamul and “made life difficult” for them, the minister said.
“Although the government’s decision today will not give any relief to the 166 people mentioned in the CBI chargesheet, the others will no longer have to make regular court appearances and face other legal hassles,” he added.
A cabinet memorandum drawn up by the judicial department and distributed among all ministers today mentions that the government wants to withdraw the cases by taking recourse to Section 321 of the CrPC.
“In various cases, the Supreme Court has observed that if the circumstances warrant the restoration of peace and tranquillity, a state government may suggest withdrawal from prosecution under Section 321 of the CrPC in the interest of administration of justice,” the cabinet memorandum quotes from the CrPC provision.
The memorandum also mentions that the police had to lodge the complaints against the land agitators “at the instance of the then government, which was acting with nefarious design and malicious intent”.
Becharam Manna, the minister of state for agriculture and a prominent face of the anti-land acquisition movement in Singur, told The Telegraph today: “The police had filed false cases against people in Nandigram and Singur. Most of them will regain peace of mind now.”
Senior Calcutta High Court advocates said it would not be easy for the government to withdraw the cases.
Advocate Sekhar Basu said: “The government can always move petitions requesting courts to allow it to withdraw FIRs but it is the discretion of the courts whether they would allow such a prayer.”
Courts allow a government to withdraw FIRs only when they find that such a move will not affect justice and will serve larger interests, Basu added.
Some senior police officers who were involved in restoring law and order in Singur and Nandigram said it would be tough for the government to establish that the complaints had been lodged with malicious intent.
“It is a fact that the police could not enter several villages in Nandigram for months. It is not easy to prove that all the complaints were false and the policemen had free access to the villages,” an officer said.