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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Calcutta HC orders WB post-poll violence cases to be handed over to CBI

CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) has been given charge to probe the massive post-violence that followed and has since continued unabated the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC’s victory in West Bengal Assembly elections. The order was passed on Thursday by the Calcutta High Court’s five-judge bench led by the acting Chief Justice of the HC. Accordingly, the CBI has formed four teams comprising of six members each for the purpose.

In a huge setback for the Mamata Banerjee-led Bengal State Government, the Calcutta HC observed there were definite and proved allegations that complaints of victims weren’t being registered. It, therefore, issued orders asking the CBI to look into all cases of murder, rape, and attempt to rape as flagged by the NHRC committee report.

The HC was ruling on a bunch of petitions and the decision was unanimously passed by the five-judge bench of Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, Justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar who opined that such incidents aren’t good for the democracy.

Calcutta HC orders CBI probe

Accepting the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendation, the high court directed that the investigation into the violence following the April-May elections in Bengal will be conducted by a special team to be set up by the CBI.

The CBI will probe the serious crimes such as rape and murder. A separate division bench has been formed to monitor the CBI investigation. Similarly, the division bench also formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the lesser crimes that occured after the elections.

The bench said:

We have chosen this option because these fall in the category of rare cases…the reasons for which this largescale violence has occurred in the State. The Committee, NHRC, any other Commission or Authority and the State shall immediately hand over entire record of the cases to the CBI for investigation. It is made clear that it shall be Court monitored investigation. Any obstruction in the course of investigation by anyone shall be viewed seriously.

Additionally, the Bench has ordered the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprised of West Bengal Cadre IPS officers Soumen Mitra, Ranveer Kumar and Suman Bala Sahoo who will head the team. The SIT has been tasked with looking into all other cases mentioned in the NHRC report.

In this regard, the court order says:

It is made clear that it shall be Court monitored investigation. The State shall spare their services for the purpose, as and when required and shall not take any adverse action against them without specific permission of the Court. The working of the SIT shall be overviewed by a retired Hon’ble Judge of the Hon’ble 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 CBI and SIT have been six weeks’ time to submit their report and the next hearing has been posted for 4 October. Explaining its decision to hand over the probe to the CBI, the bench said “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 court also struck down the state government’s appeal to fix a time period to describe post-poll violence. It noted:

One of the arguments raised by the State was to fix the period of the crime reported during which can be considered as post-poll violence. But we do not wish to enter into that area for the reason that if any aggressor party commits an offence on account of someone’s participation in the election process and supporting a particular political party, the same shall be considered as post-poll violence and no time limit as such can be fixed.

Polling in the State was in eight phases starting from March 27, 2021 and ending on April 29, 2021. In every phase of polling, some of the persons who support or work for a particular party are well known. If any offence is committed even before declaration of result and has connection with election process, even that can also be considered as part of the post poll violence. Any threat to a victim or a complainant afterwards is also continuation of offence related to the polls. It will be for the investigating agency to find out from the facts of each case. The investigating agency shall also find out as to whether the police had registered FIRs under proper sections or not.

The court also rejected the state government’s plea holding the ECI (Election Commission of India) responsible for the violence arguing that the police comes under the purview of the ECI during elections. Further, the state government has also been ordered to pay compensation to the victims after due verification and transfer the amount directly into the accounts of the victims.

CBI forms 4 teams to probe Bengal post-poll violence

Hours after the Calcutta High Court handed over the investigation of serious crimes like rape and murder in the post-poll violence in West Bengal to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Central probe agency on Thursday formed four teams comprising six officers in each of them for the purpose.

A CBI source told IANS, “Four special investigation units have been constituted to probe the Bengal post-poll violence cases.” The source said that there will be six members in each team and each unit will be headed by a joint director level officer. The source also said that the investigating officer will soon visit the state to initiate the probe.

(With IANS inputs)

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