New Delhi, Feb. 25: The Supreme Court today tossed some tough questions to the Bengal government on why it was fighting shy of a CBI probe into the Saradha default scandal.
The proceedings that lasted more than four hours revolved around the state government’s objection to the demand for a CBI probe. Any such probe will not be a reflection on the state’s investigation record, the court said and referred to the sweep of the scandal beyond Bengal.
When the state contended that the investigation was almost complete and the case was being monitored by the high court, a bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and C. Nagappan asked: “Mr Vaidyanathan, what is your objection? How will an investigation by the CBI affect you, why are you opposing it?”
The court was addressing C.S. Vaidyanathan, the senior counsel who appeared for the Bengal government.
The apex court was dealing with two PILs — one filed by two advocates, Pratim Kumar Singha Ray and Abu Abbasuddin, and the other by another advocate, Subrata Chattoraj.
Vaidyanathan, the Bengal government’s counsel, told the court that there was no need for a CBI probe as an ongoing probe by a special investigation team had made substantial progress. A division bench of Calcutta High Court had said last year there was no need for a CBI probe into the Saradha case.
Vaidyanathan said most of the investigation was complete and the two PILs were politically motivated.
The bench then said: “But it is a serious issue. No doubt you have also appointed a commission and had distributed about Rs 500 crore from the state’s fund. You have done your part. But we are examining a situation where 18 lakh investors are affected and the amount is over Rs 20,000 crore. The investigations must inspire confidence. We are not concerned with the political fallout.”
The extent of the deposit default scandal has not been conclusively established yet. The court-quoted figure of 18 lakh victims appears to have been based on the number of people who have registered themselves with a state-appointed commission. All the names are still to be vetted.
There is no consensus on the exact amount defaulted. While a petition has put the figure at Rs 30,000 crore, Vaidyanathan later estimated the amount to be Rs 1,700 crore.
At one point, Justice Thakur, heading the bench, asked the state’s counsel: “What is the role of Srinjoy Bose? And this Kunal Ghosh?”
Bose and Ghosh are Trinamul Rajya Sabha MPs. Ghosh has been arrested in the Saradha case.
Before the state’s counsel could answer, a senior counsel who was appearing for a petitioner said Ghosh and Bose were nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Mamata Banerjee government.
Senior counsel Ashok Bhan, appearing for one of the petitioners, said the “chief minister’s people are involved in the scam and it is a fit case for transfer to the CBI”.
In a sharp response, Vaidyanathan and Mukul Rohatgi, another senior counsel appearing for the state, objected to the chief minister’s name being dragged into the case.
Bhan told the court that the main accused, Sudipta Sen, had himself written an 18-page letter to the CBI about the involvement of various persons but was under pressure not to disclose the identity of several political leaders.
“But if you transfer the case to the CBI, he (Sen) will sing like a parrot and tell all the truth about every person’s involvement in the case,” Bhan claimed. Counsel Subhasish Bhowmick also appeared for the petitioners.
The bench said: “The fact that 18 lakh investors have gone to the commission with their complaints, is that not sufficient grounds for a CBI probe?”
Vaidyanathan submitted that transferring the case at this juncture to the CBI would only “shake the confidence of the present investigating officers” who, he said, had painstakingly conducted the probe so far and arrested more than 250 persons.
Rohatgi said the PILs should be dismissed as they were politically motivated. “These are sinister and motivated petitions as elections are round the corner,” he said.
Rohatgi told the court that Saradha had come into existence in 2008, whereas the Mamata government assumed power only in 2011.
Yet, he said, the current state government was being accused of collusion and being responsible for the scandal.
Justice Thakur said: “Even if it is transferred to the CBI, it will not be a reflection of your performance (the state investigation)…. The problem is such a large number of people are involved in the eastern part of India.
“It is not only West Bengal, but people in Odisha, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and other places are involved. So we need to examine it.”
The court also granted time to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Serious Fraud Investigation Organisation (SFIO), which report to the Centre, to explain within a week the value of the Saradha properties that had been attached for paying the investors.
The bench asked the SFIO and the ED to file a report to explain if the accused had acquired any property abroad. Additional solicitor-general Sidharth Luthra placed before the court in a sealed cover reports on the investigations so far carried out by the ED and the SFIO.
The bench has posted the matter for further arguments to March 4.