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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 April 2024

Calcutta High Court says no bar on Shahjahan arrest, TMC sets seven-day deadline

The clarification comes a day after Trinamul Congress Number Two Abhishek Banerjee claimed that the high court’s orders had prevented the state administration from arresting Shahjahan

Tapas Ghosh, Meghdeep Bhattacharyya Calcutta Published 27.02.24, 05:06 AM
Sheikh Shahjahan.

Sheikh Shahjahan. File picture.

A Calcutta High Court division bench headed by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam on Monday clarified that Bengal police were never barred from nabbing Sandeshkhali strongman Sheikh Shahjahan and that no stay was ever ordered on his arrest.

The clarification comes a day after Trinamul Congress Number Two Abhishek Banerjee claimed that the high court’s orders had prevented the state administration from arresting Shahjahan.

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While the high court’s clarification prompted jeers from the Opposition, the ruling dispensation quickly tried to give it a spin, claiming victory for Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and heir apparent.

A cohort of spokespersons, including state general secretary Kunal Ghosh (deemed widely as Abhishek’s mouthpiece) and education minister Bratya Basu, was deployed to shout from the rooftops that the Diamond Harbour MP had been vindicated by Monday’s high court developments.

Ghosh — not even an elected representative from a gram panchayat, with no official link to the administration — asserted that now that there was clarity, state police would arrest Shahjahan within seven days.

He also demanded answers on the Narendra Modi government’s failure to bring to book a long list of alleged fugitives and economic offenders that includes Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and Mehul Choksi.

Earlier, during the hearing of two public-interest petitions in the high court, court-appointed amicus curiae Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee had informed the bench that state police were claiming to be powerless to arrest Shahjahan because of a supposed stay on investigating the case.

Chief Justice Sivagnanam said: “Both a single-bench judge and this division bench had ordered the state police not to proceed with the investigation into the incident in Sandeshkhali till further orders.

“But that does not mean that the court imposed any stay on the process of arrest. Police have the right to arrest Shahjahan.”

On Sunday, Abhishek had said at a media conference in Maheshtala that those demanding Shahjahan’s arrest should appeal before the high court.

“If the high court ties the hands of the state administration, what can be done? After the January 5 incident, wherein it was claimed that ED (Enforcement Directorate) officers were attacked, the central agency filed a complaint,” the Trinamul national general secretary had said.

“The high court ordered the constitution of a special investigation team (SIT), comprising representatives of state police and central agencies. Around 10-12 days later, the ED appealed for a stay in the high court. Accordingly, the plea for a stay was accepted.

“This means they wanted there to be no investigation, arrest, summons, or interrogation. Did Mamata Banerjee do this? No. It was done by Calcutta High Court…. If the high court ties the hands of the state police, how can they arrest anyone?”

An order from Justice Jay Sengupta of the high court had last month said the CBI and the state police would jointly conduct the probe into the January 5 mob attack on an ED team that had gone to Sandeshkhali to raid Shahjahan’s home.

That order said that since the investigation would be conducted jointly, the state police would stop (unilateral) investigations.

Further, Trinamul on Monday released statements underscoring a February 7 order by the Chief Justice Sivagnanam-led bench, a part of which said: “It goes without saying that the West Bengal State Police shall also be restrained from proceeding with the investigation in the cases, which have been registered by them.”

Abhishek had on Sunday said: “Those who want Shahjahan’s arrest should make an appointment and ask the court why this stay was granted.... Instead of tying our hands, if the high court had empowered the police, they would have shown their prowess….

“I want to put this on record: Trinamul is not guarding Sheikh Shahjahan, but the judiciary is. This is to ensure that Sandeshkhali remains in the news. Lift the stay and see what the state police do next.”

Monday’s division bench order also directed the high court registrar-general to issue a public notification, to be carried in at least one English and one regional-language newspaper, asking Shahjahan to become a party to the case and submit an affidavit stating his views on the allegations against him.

In the same order, the bench — which included Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya — also directed state advocate-general Kishore Datta to submit a list of people, with their current designations, that the state wanted to add as parties to the case.

In reply, Datta said that in the past four years, the police had received 47 complaints of torture, including one of rape, in Sandeshkhali. “Chargesheets had been filed in 42 cases. The last case was filed on December 18 (2023),” he said.

He added that a total of 77 land-grab cases had been filed, including 24 after January 5 (when Shahjahan went into hiding). “The government has been taking steps in accordance with the law,” Datta said.

At this, Chief Justice Sivagnanam expressed surprise, asking why the state government had been silent for four years.

Trinamul went into fire-fighting mode to try and prevent any damage to Abhishek from the court developments.

“It’s a clear indication of how sections of the media are, in collusion with the BJP and some sections of the judiciary, working to tarnish Bengal’s image,” Ghosh said.

“It was only after Abhishek Banerjee brought the truth to the fore that the high court promptly issued a clarification…. Now that the court has removed the obstruction, we are confident that the state police will arrest Sheikh Shahjahan within seven days.”

Minister Basu said: “The court developments (on Monday) only vindicate Abhishek’s stand. Even as we speak, an FIR against Sheikh Shahjahan has been filed by the state police at the Basirhat police station. The propaganda of the BJP and its allies must be exposed.”

The BJP tore into Trinamul for trying to “misuse” a high court directive.

“It’s a shame that the ruling party attempted to misuse a high court direction to justify the injustice it committed,” said the state BJP’s chief spokesperson, Samik Bhattacharya.

Report sought

Amicus curiae Chatterjee on Monday said he had information that some people in Sandeshkhali were still too afraid to lodge complaints against Shajahan. He sought the court’s permission to visit the disturbed areas.

The bench directed Chatterjee to file a report on March 4 and posted the next hearing to that date.

Fresh probe

Another probe has been launched against Shahjahan based on a February 24 complaint lodged with Sandeshkhali police station by Gour Das, a poultry farmer.

Das said Shahjahan was one of six Trinamul activists who ransacked his poultry farm last year, vandalising a motor van and a motorcycle and looting Rs 80,000 in cash, besides assaulting him and women members of his family.

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