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Saturday, September 25, 2021

West Bengal post-poll violence: Calcutta HC orders CBI probe, forms SIT

In a unanimous ruling on a clutch of petitions, the five-judge bench of Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, Justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar said “such types of incidents, even if isolated, are not good for healthy democracy”.

Written by Atri Mitra | New Delhi |
Updated: August 20, 2021 1:30:49 am
“It shall be a court monitored investigation and any obstruction in the course of investigation by anyone shall be viewed seriously,” the court added.

Noting “there are definite and proved allegations” that complaints by victims of violence following the West Bengal assembly polls were “not registered”, the Calcutta High Court Thursday ordered a CBI investigation into all alleged cases of murder, rape and attempt to rape, as flagged by a committee whose members were nominated by the NHRC chairperson.

In a unanimous ruling on a clutch of petitions, the five-judge bench of Chief Justice (Acting) Rajesh Bindal, Justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar said “such types of incidents, even if isolated, are not good for healthy democracy”.

“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,” it said.

The bench said a Special Investigation Team will be constituted for all other cases referred to in the report of the committee. It said the SIT will be headed by Suman Bala Sahoo, and its other members will be Soumen Mitra and Ranveer Kumar, all IPS officers of the West Bengal cadre.

“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 order stated.

Explained

Battle will intensify

Directing the CBI and the SIT to submit their status report within six weeks – the matter will be heard next on October 4 — the bench said: “As the core issue regarding the post-poll violence and the action required to be taken thereon has been resolved with the directions for proper investigation of cases by the CBI and the SIT…, the matters now shall be placed before the Division Bench for dealing with other issues in the report and further proceedings.”

Explaining why it was ordering a CBI probe, 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 bench said: “Notice issued to Rashid Munir Khan, Deputy Commissioner of Police, South Suburban Division, Kolkata vide order dated July 13, 2021, to show-cause as to why proceedings for contempt be not initiated against him, shall be dealt with later. “

Rejecting the state plea for a time-frame that could describe post-poll violence, the bench said: “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.”

It said “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.”

On the role of the Election Commission of India, it said: “Strong argument was sought to be raised by the learned Advocate General time and again that till such time election code was in force, entire police was under the control and supervision of the Election Commission of India, hence, it is responsible for any violence till May 03, 2021, when the code was lifted… No provision of law rules or instructions to that effect have been referred to in support of the argument. The argument deserves to be rejected outrightly. Civil or police administration is under the control of the Election Commission during the process of elections only to ensure free and fair elections. That does not mean that the police stop discharging its normal duties to control law and order.”

“The State cannot be allowed to blow hot and cold at the same breath. There is nothing placed on record by the state that even normal law and order, and registration of criminal cases comes within the purview of EC. Constitutional obligations of the State do not get vested in the Election Commission during the process of elections,” it said.

The bench ordered the state government to pay compensation to the victims of crimes in accordance with the policy of the State, after due verification. The compensation amount will be directly transferred to their bank accounts.

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