In a major setback to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Calcutta High Court has ordered a court-monitored CBI probe into the incidents of post-poll violence in West Bengal. All case detail as required should be handed over to the CBI.
The court has ordered an SIT to be headed by Suman bora Sahu and two other police officers for other cases. The Calcutta High Court ruled that the compensation to victims will be given through direct bank accounts.
Further, no adverse action can be taken without the court’s direction.
A five-member bench comprising acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal, Justice IP Mukerji, Justice Harish Tandon, Justice Soumen Sen and Justice Subrata Talukdar, which had reserved its verdict on 3 August, pronounced their judgment today. Several petitioners had moved the court alleging widespread violence post-state Assembly elections after the Trinamool Congress (AITC) returned to power on 2 May.
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. Any obstruction in the course of investigation by anyone shall be viewed seriouslyStatement of Calcutta High Court
As regards other criminal cases related to post-poll violence, the court directed that they be investigated by a Special Investigation Team under the monitoring of the court. IPS officers, Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranbir Kumar will be members of the SIT.
The working of SIT will be monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, who will be mentioned later in a separate order to be issued. The court has directed the State of West Bengal to immediately process the compensation for the victims of the post-poll violence. The court also rejected the allegations of bias raised by the State Government against the NHRC, a team of which had submitted a fact-finding report to the court as per its directions.
Hailing the decision by the high court, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said that the Calcutta High Court order had exposed the Mamata Banerjee-led government. as the post-poll violence took place with the complicity of the state government.
A committee of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had been formed as directed by the high court to probe the various complaints of post-poll violence in West Bengal. The victims had made serious allegations of murder, rape and destruction of property.
Opposing the findings and recommendations of the NHRC committee report, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the state DGP, had claimed during submissions that it was erroneous and biased.
Claiming that a few members of the NHRC panel had links with the opposition BJP, he prayed that it should be rejected by the court. However, as Sirf News had pointed out at the time, the NHRC panel composition actually had a pro-accused skew, with representations from both the Trinamool Congress and the Islamic community.
The allegation of bias against the Committee is not material because this court has considered not only the report of the Committee but other materials as well and arguments of learned Counsel based thereonJustice IP Mukerji
The CBI and the SIT have been asked to submit status reports to the Court within six weeks. The matter will be again considered by a division bench on 24 October.
The court has directed the handing over of the autopsy report of Abhijeet Sarkar, a BJP worker who got killed in the post-poll violence and other sealed cover documents to the CBI.
Recommendations made by NHRC committee beyond its jurisdiction
Justice I.P Mukerji noted in his judgment that the NHRC committee was under an obligation to observe the procedure prescribed under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 before making any recommendations.
Even if we assume that the Committee was making a recommendation under the said Act, the view expressed by it was without compliance with that procedure. Therefore the part of the report expressing opinion, making recommendations etc. is non-est in the eye of lawJustice Mukerji said
Similarly, in his concurring judgment, Justice Sen also set aside the recommendations made by the NHRC committee by observing that the committee’s mandate was only to do fact-finding.
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 limitsJustice Sen said
Independent investigation needed
Acting Chief Justice Bindal, in his lead judgment, observed that the fact-finding report of the NHRC committee has thrown light on the police inaction, and hence the matter required independent investigation.
The allegations of the petitioners are that in registration of cases and investigation thereof of the police is slow as main allegations are against the supporters and workers of the ruling party. In number of cases FIRs were registered only after the committee pointed out those. There are some FIRs registered against the supporters/workers of political parties not in power. These are claimed by them as false cross cases. Even they will not be able to allege bias against the State if investigation of their cases is also held by an independent agency or monitored by SIT. It should and will inspire confidence of the people in rule of law. The allegation is of police inaction. Report submitted by the Committee throws some light on this and the police having not properly responded to all the issues raised and trying to downplay the same, it certainly needs investigation by an independent agency. Even comparison of data pertaining to crime during previous corresponding period will also not come to the rescue of the State as the pattern of the crime can change and the period thereof. Further there are definite and proved allegations that complaints filed by the victims of post poll violence were not registered. Such types of incidents, even if isolated are not good for healthy democracyPart of Justice Bindal’s statement
The union government had submitted before the Court that it was willing to extend the services of central investigating agencies such as the CBI and the NIA under the court’s orders.
Timeline of events
Following the results of the 2021 Assembly elections, a batch of petitions had been filed before the High Court seeking an investigation into allegations of post-poll violence. The pleas also sought the Court’s direction to deploy the services of central investigating agencies to probe into the allegations.
On 4 May, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had taken suo moto cognisance of the matter and had requested the DIG (Investigation) to constitute a team of officers of the Investigation Division of the Commission to conduct an on-spot fact-finding investigation.
On 31 May, the High court had ordered the formation of a three-member committee to ensure that persons allegedly displaced by post-poll violence in the State can safely return to their houses. The three-member committee comprised of Member Secretary of West Bengal Legal Services Authority (WBSLSA), the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and the NHRC. Subsequently, the WBSLSA submitted a report to the Court compiling all the complaints received by them from the victims.
On 18 July, the high court had directed the NHRC to constitute a committee that will examine complaints filed by persons who were allegedly displaced during the post-poll violence in West Bengal. NHRC Chairperson Justice Arun Mishra then constituted a seven-member committee to inquire into complaints of post-poll violence. The NHRC in its report had termed the post-election violence as “retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party”.
Based on the NHRC’s interim report, the High Court had observed on July 2 that the 2021 Assembly elections in the state were prima facie followed by violent episodes, leading to several deaths, rampant sexual exploitation of women and children, etc.