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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

Double whammy for Bengal government in court: CBI gets Sandeshkhali, NIA gets shield

Legal circles interpreted the twin orders as a setback to the Bengal government ahead of the Lok Sabha elections because the “breakdown of law and order” in the state under Trinamul is a key element of the BJP’s poll campaign

Kinsuk Basu, Tapas Ghosh Calcutta Published 11.04.24, 04:51 AM
Calcutta High Court.

Calcutta High Court. File Photo

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed the CBI to investigate the allegations of land-grabbing and crime against women in Sandeshkhali.

The court also granted interim protection from arrest to the NIA officers against whom an FIR was lodged following its raid at Bhupatinagar in East Midnapore in connection with a bomb blast case.

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Legal circles interpreted the twin orders as a setback to the Bengal government ahead of the Lok Sabha elections because the “breakdown of law and order” in the state under Trinamul is a key element of the BJP’s poll campaign.

“...This Court is of the considered view that instead of constituting an expert committee to be headed by a retired High Court Judge, the CBI may be directed to investigate and submit a report with regard to the allegations and complaints of the persons of Sandeshkhali...,” a division bench of Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya said in its order.

“In order to ensure confidentiality, CBI shall create a dedicated portal/ email ID to which the complaints can be lodged.... The CBI shall also enquire into and investigate the allegations of forcible grabbing of land of the inhabitants of the locality... This Court shall monitor the entire investigation and shall pass further orders after the reports as directed above are filed by CBI.”

The order came a little over a month after the same bench ordered the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to hand over the custody of Sandeshkhali strongman Sheikh Shahjahan to the CBI within six days of his arrest.

Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas hit the national headline on January 5 when an Enforcement Directorate team came under attack after it turned up to search the premises of now-suspended Trinamul leader Shahjahan in connection with a ration distribution scam.

Three ED officials were injured in the attack. The CBI has since made a few arrests, which include Shahjahan’s brother Sheikh Alamgir, for their alleged involvement in orchestrating the attack.

While delivering the order on Sandeshkhali, the division bench referred to a report by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes that visited the area on February 22.

“The report states that they (the commission members) have interacted with several people who have mentioned about the physical violence, land grabbing and harassment meted out to them by the accused and others and this has been happening for a few years and those persons have been indulging in the acts of atrocities, the women are rounded up at nights from their homes and asked to accompany them to a particular place and if they resist, their husbands and sons were beaten up,” the order mentioned.

In its order, the division bench said the CBI would have the power to question anyone including individuals, “organisation, government authority, police authorities, quasi-governmental authorities, NGOs, public-spirited persons and others who may be genuinely interested in the matter to furnish information” that may be useful or relevant.

The case will be heard next on May 2.

The verdict followed at least three PILs seeking the court’s intervention and a CBI probe into the alleged atrocities on Sandeshkhali villagers by Shajahan and his men for the last four years.

Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumder welcomed the high court order. “It is evident from the court’s order that the state police had done nothing much about investigating allegations of land grabbing and assault on women,” Majumder said.

Trinamul claimed the court’s order was aimed at boosting the BJP’s prospects ahead of the elections and putting the state government in a spot.

“Whenever such a strong order is delivered, which goes against the state government, it feels like (former Justice) Abhijit Gangopadhyay has quit, but left his shadow on the judge’s chair…,” Trinamul leader Kunal Ghosh said. “He had shown that there is a tendency among judges at Calcutta High Court to sympathise with the BJP and have an anti-TMC mindset. Their aim is to provide oxygen to the BJP ahead of elections and put the state government in a spot.”

In the Bhupatinagar case, Justice Jay Sengupta of Calcutta High Court restrained the state police from taking any coercive action against the NIA officials based on the FIR it had lodged against the central agency, accusing them of outraging the modesty of a woman.

“Although the investigation shall continue for the present, if the Investigating Agency wants to interrogate the officers of the NIA/ central forces, the same shall be done through video conference with 72 hours’ prior notice. Videography of interrogation, if any, shall be preserved. The Investigating Agency shall not arrest the accused in respect of the Bhupatinagar PS Case No. 140 of 2024 during pendency of this application.”

On Saturday, a section of villagers at Narubelia in Bhupatinagar allegedly attacked an NIA team when it went in search of some of the accused in a December 2022 bomb blast case that had killed three people. The NIA team was on its way to Bhupatinagar police station with two arrested Trinamul leaders — Monobrata Jana and Balai Charan Maity — when it was attacked. An NIA official was injured and the windshield of the SUV damaged.

The NIA lodged a complaint of assault and obstructing government officials from performing their duties. Within hours of the complaint, the wife of one of the arrested leaders lodged a complaint alleging molestation by the NIA officials. A separate FIR was drawn up and a probe initiated.

On Tuesday, the state police summoned two NIA officials for questioning and asked them to appear at Bhupatinagar police station by April 11.

Officers said the statements of the two officials, including the complainant of alleged assault, had to be recorded and the forensic examination of the damaged vehicle conducted.

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