West Bengal appoints controversial cop Rajeev Kumar as DGP, reigniting Saradha scam controversy

Once accused in the Saradha scam, Kumar’s return triggers outrage from opposition, but Trinamool defends appointment.

Published : Dec 29, 2023 00:02 IST - 3 MINS READ

In this file photo, Rajeev Kumar appears before the Alipore court in connection with the Saradha scam case in Kolkata on October 3, 2019.

In this file photo, Rajeev Kumar appears before the Alipore court in connection with the Saradha scam case in Kolkata on October 3, 2019. | Photo Credit: PTI

With his recent appointment as the Director General of Police, the illustrious and simultaneously controversial career of West Bengal’s top cop, Rajeev Kumar, seems to have come full circle. From being one of the most celebrated police officers to facing scrutiny by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore Saradha scam, Kumar, after spending a few years in relative obscurity as Principal Secretary, Information Technology & Electronics, has returned to the public spotlight with his new role. The move has elicited sharp reactions from both the opposition and certain factions within the ruling Trinamool Congress.

On February 3, 2019, West Bengal experienced an unprecedented political development when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee initiated an “indefinite dharna” in the heart of Kolkata. This came after a group of CBI officials arrived unannounced at the residence of Kumar, the then Kolkata police commissioner, in connection with the Saradha deposit collection scam. The subsequent events appeared to be a cat-and-mouse game between the CBI and Kumar, with the central agency conducting a highly publicised search for the police commissioner, whom they claimed was “absconding”.

In 2013, when the Saradha scam affected lakhs of investors from the poorer sections of society in West Bengal, Kumar was appointed head of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the scam. Later, when the CBI sought cooperation and faced resistance from Kumar, the then interim Director of CBI, Nageshwar Rao, alleged that the Kolkata Police had taken control of evidence and documents, hindering the investigation.

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The standoff between the Centre and the State was eventually resolved by the Supreme Court, which restrained the CBI from arresting Kumar but directed him to cooperate with the investigating agency. Subsequently, Kumar was questioned by the CBI in Shillong and later removed from his position as Commissioner of Police, taking up the role of Principal Secretary in the Department of Information Technology & Electronics for the past four years.

In response to Kumar’s appointment, Leader of the Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party member Suvendu Adhikari claimed, “By destroying the evidence of the Saradha scam, Kumar had made it possible for Mamata Banerjee to remain free. She is simply reciprocating. I want to ask the CBI, why the case pending against him in the Supreme Court is not coming up.”

The BJP’s spokesperson, Samik Bhattacharya, characterised the appointment as another instance of the “politicisation of the police and the administration” in Bengal. Bhattacharya noted that Mamata Banerjee’s authority faced internal challenges within her own party for the first time when Trinamool spokesperson Kunal Bose spoke out against the appointment.”This is the first time that someone from within the Trinamool challenged an appointment made by the party supremo,” Bhattacharya told Frontline.

Kunal Ghosh, one of the main accused in the Saradha case, arrested by Kumar’s investigating team in November 2013, expressed support for Kumar’s competence as a police officer. Ghosh, currently a prominent face of Trinamool, cautioned against sacrificing innocent individuals, stating, “Just ensure that you don’t sacrifice an innocent person like me at the behest of somebody again. God does not forgive that”.

Also Read | Trinamool Congress struggles to shake off corruption charges in Bengal

A member of the 1989 IPS officer batch, Kumar’s capabilities as a policeman have never been in doubt. He successfully solved several high-profile cases, including the 2001 abduction of Partha Pratim Roy Burman, the owner of footwear giant Khadim’s, and the 2002 attack on the American Centre in Kolkata.

However, after Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress assumed power in 2011, Kumar was perceived to be closely associated with the ruling party. According to Sujan Chakraborty, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), when the CBI investigated Kumar, it became evident that he held significant power within the government, even more than top ministers. The Chief Minister herself protested and pitted the state police against the central investigating team to protect him. “That was how important it was for her to save him,” Chakraborty told Frontline.

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