SC notice to Centre, others on West Bengal plea against HC order for CBI probe into post-poll violence cases
West Bengal has made out a case for issuance of notices, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while seeking responses from the Centre and others on the state government's appeal against the Calcutta High Court order directing court-monitored CBI probe into the heinous cases of rape and murder during the post-poll violence there.
The apex court refused however to accede to the state's submission that the CBI be directed, in an interim order, not to register any fresh case, saying as per the principle of natural justice no such order be passed without hearing the other side.
A bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose disagreed with the submissions of senior advocate Kapil Sibal that the top court should record that the fate of CBI probe in the cases would depend on the outcome of the state's appeal in the top court.
"That is always there, we do not need to say this. Moreover, we are posting it after one week and nothing will happen," the bench observed.
"We think you (Sibal) have made out the case for issuance of the notices. Let the other side come and file the response...we will hear out the case one day before the vacation," it said and fixed the case for next hearing on October 7.
The Mamata Banerjee-led government is aggrieved by the high court verdict.
A five-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI investigation into all the alleged cases of heinous crimes in West Bengal after the assembly poll results this year, in which the ruling TMC came back to power, after accepting the recommendations of an NHRC panel.
As regards other criminal cases related to post-poll violence, the high court had directed that they be probed by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the monitoring of the court.
The high court verdict came on PILs which had alleged that people were assaulted, made to flee homes and properties were destroyed during the violence in the wake of the assembly elections and sought an impartial probe into the incidents.
At the outset, Sibal raised issues related to federalism, selection of some members of the Human Rights panel who were entrusted with the preliminary probe into post-poll violence cases and the fact that administration and law and order were in the hands of the poll panel during the continuation of the poll process.
The law and order was under the superintendence of the Election Commission during May 2 to May 5 this year and the definition of post-poll violence' was stretched and even ordinary crimes were brought under its ambit, Sibal said.
"The Chief Minister took oath on May 5. Your Lordships will have to decide what do you mean by post poll violence," he said.
"They said there was inaction on part of the state... What happens is this is flashed all over the country, there is a matter of reputation of the state as well. You do not give us an opportunity, castigate us and pass the order," the senior lawyer said while assailing the high court order.
"The high court proceeded on an assumption that the entire police force of West Bengal cannot be trusted and there was no factual basis to support this," he said.
"The state government was not given adequate opportunity and time to respond to several complaints related to criminal offences," he said, adding that scrutiny of cases had taken months in the Muzaffarnagar riots cases.
The senior lawyer alleged that at least three members of the six-member fact finding panel of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had open affiliation to the party ruling at the Centre and hence there is an apprehension of bias .
"The NHRC panel did not follow the proper procedure prescribed under the law," he alleged.
"The principle evolved is that transfer of the case has to be done on the case-to-case basis. You cannot say I have received 100 complaints and will transfer them without analysing the facts and hence there cannot be en-masse transfer," Sibal said.
After Sibal outlined his submissions, the bench said that it was prima facie convinced that the notice can be issued and it will be better if the entire case is argued after another side appears and responds.
Earlier, the state had moved the Supreme Court challenging the Calcutta High Court order directing the court-monitored CBI investigation into all cases of rape and murder during the post poll violence in the state after accepting the recommendations of an NHRC panel.
The high court had observed that there were "definite and proved" allegations that complaints of the victims of violence in the aftermath of the West Bengal assembly polls were not even registered.
Besides CBI probe, the high court had ordered an SIT to probe all other cases and it included Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranveer Kumar, all IPS officers of the West Bengal cadre.
"All the cases where, as per the report of the Committee, the allegations are about murder of a person and crime against women regarding rape/attempt to rape, shall be referred to CBI for investigation, it had said.
The high court has also directed the NHRC committee, constituted by its chairman on a direction by the five-judge bench, and any other commission or authority and the state to immediately hand over the records of the cases to the CBI to carry forward the probe.
The bench had said it will monitor the investigations by both the CBI and the SIT and asked the two agencies to submit status reports to the court within six weeks.
It had said that the working of the SIT will be overseen by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court for which a separate order will be passed after obtaining his/her consent.
In its ruling, the bench had said heinous crimes such as murder and rape "deserve to be investigated by an independent agency which in the circumstances can only be Central Bureau of Investigation".
The state failed to register FIRs even in some cases of alleged murder, the bench had said, adding,
"This shows a pre-determined mind to take the investigation into a particular direction. Under such circumstances investigation by independent agency will inspire confidence to all concerned".
The facts in relation to the allegations made in the PILs are "even more glaring" as the incidents are not isolated to one place in the state, it said.
The NHRC committee had on July 13 submitted its final report to the court.
An interim report of the NHRC committee had mentioned that its member Atif Rasheed was obstructed from discharging duty and he and his team members were attacked on June 29 in Jadavpur area on the southern fringe of the city, the court noted.