Calcutta High Court orders CBI probe into post-poll violence in West Bengal, directs government to pay compensation to victims

Published : August 19, 2021 18:51 IST

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: PTI

In a major blow to the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court on August 19, based on the report submitted by the National Human Rights Commission on the post-election violence in the State, ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the more serious cases such as murder and rape in the prolonged violence that took place after the Assembly election results were declared on May 2. It also directed the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for other cases and ordered the State government to pay compensation to the victims of the violence.

The High Court order is particularly embarrassing for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her government as she has maintained that there were no incidents of violence after the government was formed and that the NHRC report was biased and was working at the behest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre.

“All the cases where, as per the report of the [fact finding] committee [of the NHRC], the allegations are about murder of a person and crime against women regarding rape/attempt to rape, shall be referred to CBI for investigation. The committee, NHRC, any other commission or authority and the State shall immediately hand over entire record of the cases entrusted to the CBI for investigation. It is made clear that it shall be the court monitored investigation,” the order stated. The other cases will be looked into by a Special Investigation Team, headed by IPS officers Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranveer Kumar (West Bengal cadre).

“The working of the SIT shall be overviewed by a retired Hon’ble Judge of Hon’ble the Supreme Court, for which separate order shall be passed after taking his/her consent. His/her terms of appointment shall be decided later on,” the order stated. The CBI and the SIT will have to submit their reports in court within six weeks from August 19. The five-member bench comprising Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, and Justices I.P. Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen, and Subrata Talukdar, also ruled that “immediate action” be taken by the State to pay compensation to the victims of crime as per the policy of the State after due verification. “It shall be direct bank transfer in their accounts.”

In his lead judgement, Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal Jindal said, justifying the order: “It is for the reason that in number of cases, the State had failed to register the FIRs and opined the same to be not the cases of murder. In some cases, even after registration of FIR, the observation by the State is that these may result in ‘no case’. This shows pre-determined mind to take investigation into a particular direction. Under such circumstances investigation by independent agency will inspire confidence to all concerned.”

The NHRC, which submitted its report to the Court on July 13, was scathing in its criticism of the government. It referred to the post-poll violence as “retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party (Bharatiya Janata Party)” and alleged that the local police was “grossly derelict, if not complicit, in this violence”. The report also had a separate annexure containing a long “List of notorious criminals/goons” which included such Trinamool heavyweights as Minister Jyotipriya Mullick and MLAs Saukat Mollah and Partha Bhowmik. The Trinamool Congress had alleged that the report was politically motivated and claimed that the NHRC members were BJP activists.

While the verdict was unanimous, Justices I.P. Mukherjee and Soumen Sen expressed reservations regarding the “recommendations” in the NHRC report. “The said committee constituted by the National Human Rights Commission had only power under our order to report on facts as gathered by them on investigation. They had no jurisdiction to make any recommendation or to express any opinion. We did not vest them with that power,” Justice Mukherjee opined. In a similar vein, Justice Sen said, “Although the fact finding committee has made scathing remarks and made recommendations against politicians and police officers, I am of the view that such remarks and recommendations were uncalled for and to that extent the committee has transgressed its limits.”

On June 18, the Calcutta High Court had directed the NHRC to “examine all the cases... and submit a comprehensive report.” It had also asked the NHRC to suggest “steps to be taken to ensure confidence of the people that they can peacefully live in their houses and also carry on their occupation or business to earn their livelihood”, and point out “the persons prima facie responsible for crime and the officers who maintained calculated silence on the issue”.

While the BJP has welcomed the High Court Order, the Trinamool has expressed its disappointment and has hinted that it may move the Supreme Court. Senior Trinamool leader and Lok Sabha MP Saugata Roy said, “Personally, I am very unhappy and disappointed with this. I did not expect such a verdict from the High Court. If the CBI constantly intervenes on matters of the State’s law and order, then what happens to the State’s authority? Law and order is completely under the State government. I feel the rights of the State are being impinged upon…. The State government will certainly take steps. One step is to appeal to a higher court.”

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