Calcutta, May 28: The FIR-raj is alive and kicking in Bengal.
The Bengal police “persuaded” a five-star hotel to disclose information on a guest and her visitor, ensured that a line seeking investigation was squeezed in and converted the statement into a complaint on which an FIR was drawn up against a filmmaker critical of the Trinamul government, according to information collected by The Telegraph.
Calcutta has been abuzz with reports of actress Swastika Mukherjee’s injury and the detention of filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay over the past few days.
Multiple media organisations, including this newspaper, had reported that Mukhopadhyay was detained in New Town police station for 23 hours from Sunday evening and through the night after the police showed unusual interest in the case.
A copy of the complaint, now available with this newspaper, and subsequent conversations with multiple sources suggest something far more sinister than the overzealous pursuit of a complaint has taken place. The police do not display such zeal without high-level intervention.
The picture that emerges shows the police can pursue any citizen at the slightest whiff of controversy or discord and they could go to any length, including leaning on a hotel to reveal personal details about guests, to draw up an FIR out of thin air, even if no genuine complaint exists.
In this particular case, the filmmaker was summoned to the police station and made to sit there for hours — long before the “complaint” was filed at 10.15pm.
The Telegraph lists the questions and answers the detention has thrown up.
Did the hotel file a complaint?
No. The hotel, Swissotel at City Centre in New Town, was “correct” when it said on Monday that “we have not made any complaint against anyone”. The hotel made a statement, listing the information its employees were privy to — such as the condition of the room, the arrivals and departures of Swastika and Suman, the money paid and the dues. But at the end of the statement by the security manager of the hotel was a line: “So, I pray that necessary investigation may kindly be done.” It was on the basis of this line — and the information that bloodstains were found in the room — that the police drew up an FIR.
Why did the hotel file such a statement?
The police said the hotel wanted to collect dues amounting to Rs 30,864 (Rs 13,674 for room charges and Rs 17,190 for the damage to the room). The hotel’s statement to the police said it tried to contact Swastika over the phone but failed.
Do hotels usually approach the police for dues?
No. Asked about the usual practice if a guest runs up dues, Anuj Bidani, Swissotel director (sales and marketing) said: “We keep in touch with the client, we follow up and get back the money… we never seek help from a legal body.”
Bidani added: “We respect our guests. There is no hard and fast rule for clearance of dues. We want them to pay when they leave, but if they can’t, either due to non-availability of cash or other problems, we consider that. We do not insist and give them a fair time. But there is no specific time frame within which we ask them to clear the dues…. It could be seven days…. 12 days.”
However, Swastika checked out on May 24 (Saturday) and the “statement” was given to the police at 10.15pm the very next day, a Sunday.
The hotel statement mentioned that around 11.15am on Saturday — three hours after Swastika checked out — “profuse blood stains on the bed sheet, floor and washroom” were found. Why didn’t the hotel inform the police immediately, considering the forensic implications, instead of waiting till Sunday night?
Bidani said: “This is a question relating to the confidentiality clause of our client. I would not be able to divulge.”
Asked if client confidentiality had been breached when the statement was filed on Sunday, he added: “No. No one is above the law… not even the client’s confidentiality.”
Senior executives of some other star hotels in the city echoed what Bidani said but added that information was shared discreetly when law-enforcement was involved.
The executives were unanimous that few star hotels ask police to recover dues. If unfamiliar individuals check in, an amount to cover a few days’ stay is blocked on the credit card. Since Swastika is a well-known actress, it is unlikely that any hotel in Calcutta would have gone to the police of its own — that too for around Rs 31,000 — without waiting for long for any dues to be settled.
Then why did Swissotel take the extraordinary step of giving a statement tothe police and seeking an investigation?
Asked if there was pressure from the police, Bidani, the hotel official, said: “No. We did it by ourselves. There was no pressure on us.”
This evening, The Telegraph managed to speak to a person associated with the star facility. He was willing to speak on condition of anonymity.
The following is his version: “Police detained two staffers, including (the security manager) of Swissotel from 3pm to 11pm on May 25 (Sunday) and asked what had happened at the hotel concerning Swastika and Suman. (The security manager) made a statement of fact. As a hotel, it could not have not cooperated with the police when they were seeking information. And he (the security manager) knew that there were bloodstains and broken glass and other things. It was not possible for him not to cooperate.
“According to the hotel management, they put out a statement of fact and did not make a complaint per se. One can read the last line as a complaint but as the hotel sees it, the hotel informed the police only when it was asked. It is obvious that the hotel would not have gone to police for non-payment of only Rs 30,864. If you go to the hotel, there may be cases where lakhs of rupees remained unpaid. And if the hotel needs to take it up with a guest, it will do it differently, maybe by first sending a legal notice.
“The hotel had maintained in the first place that there was no complaint because it did not consider what you have (the copy of the statement) as a complaint. It is a statement. The hotel is unnecessarily getting dragged into this matter.”
What happened to the investigation into the bloodstains?
Sources said Swastika’s injuries were so minor that hospitalisation was not essential to treat the wounds. Swastika was admitted to hospital on Saturday and released the very next day.
Police sources said investigators visited the hotel room on Sunday but did not collect any samples because Swastika had not pressed charges. “So, the bloodstains do not come under our purview,” said a police officer. Which means the sole ground for harassing the filmmaker were the dues —which he did not run up and about which the hotel was not perturbed till the police “sought information”.
What are the police saying?
This newspaper made several calls and sent a text message to Rajeev Kumar, the commissioner of police of the Bidhannagar commissionerate under which New Town police station falls, but there was no reply. Calls to Arnab Ghosh, the deputy commissioner (detective department) who questioned the filmmaker, were disconnected.
The newspaper then spoke to Prasun Mukherjee, the former commissioner of Calcutta police.
In reply to questions, Mukherjee said: “There appears to be a time lag of (several) hours between the police summoning Mukhopadhyay to a police station in Bidhannagar and the hotel lodging the complaint. There has to be a basis why someone would be summoned. I wonder what would be the investigation agency’s answer when this question surfaces in court.
“There is this growing tendency now of officers preferring to sit in offices and call for persons. Why couldn’t someone visit the person instead of summoning him when there is no specific case against him?”
He added: “Questioning is carried out in connection with the investigation of a case. Where is the case? Where is the complaint? Besides, the complaint from the hotel is about non-payment of dues by someone who has booked a room (not a visitor).”