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CBI reaches home of Mamata’s nephew to quiz wife in coal case

The move marks the first time that a central agency has sought to question a close family member of the Chief Minister.

Written by Sweety Kumari | Kolkata |
Updated: February 22, 2021 5:21:59 am
TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee's wife Rujira responds to CBI notice, asks team to visit residence on TuesdayAt Abhishek Banerjee’s house on Sunday. (Express Photo)

MARKING A new flashpoint in the tussle between the BJP-led Centre and the TMC’s state government, with Assembly elections around the corner in West Bengal, the CBI Sunday reached the Kolkata residence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee to question his wife over alleged “bank transactions” in connection with a coal pilferage case.

The move marks the first time that a central agency has sought to question a close family member of the Chief Minister. However, with Abhishek’s wife Rujira unavailable, the three-member CBI team left within 15 minutes after serving a notice to question her under Section 160 of CrPC that requires the attendance of witnesses in an investigation, The Indian Express has learnt.

The CBI also reached the house of Rujira’s sister Menaka Gambhir in the city Sunday evening to question her in connection with the case. With Gambhir too unavailable, the CBI team served a notice asking her to be available for questioning, and is likely to visit her house around 11 am Monday.

Mamata Banerjee did not refer specifically to the CBI action but said during a function in Kolkata to mark International Mother Language Day that she “will not be afraid of any intimidation”.

“Some leaders from Delhi are saying that they know how to break the spine of some Bengalis. I dare them to do it. They made attempts to do it earlier and even today. But don’t try to intimidate us with jail. We have fought against guns and are not afraid of fighting against rats. As long as there is life in me, I will not be afraid of any intimidation. It is not easy to break our spine and gouge our eyes,” she said.

A CBI officer told The Indian Express that the agency is seeking to question Abhishek’s wife and sister-in-law “over some of their bank transactions”. State officials said security has been tightened outside Abhishek’s residence with more policemen deployed.

The CBI action followed a notice served earlier Sunday to “Rujira Banerjee alias Naroola” asking her to be present at her residence at 3 pm for “answering certain questions relating to the particulars of the case”.

Responding to this notice, Abhishek Banerjee posted on Twitter that he had “full faith in the law”. “At 2 pm today, the CBI served a notice in the name of my wife. We have full faith in the law of the land. However, if they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us, they are mistaken. We are not the ones who would ever be cowed down,” he tweeted.

The case was filed by the CBI on November 27, 2020, under IPC sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) and charges under Prevention of Corruption Act to probe the alleged illegal mining and theft of coal from the Kunustoria and Kajoria fields of Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL).

The CBI has conducted several raids in connection with the probe, and visited the coal mines too. The FIR lists several senior ECL officials, unknown officials of the CISF, Railways and other government departments, and other unknown persons apart from the alleged kingpin Anup Majhi.

Security deployed outside Abhishek Banerjee’s house.

The BJP has alleged that several TMC leaders, including Abhishek, were instrumental in the siphoning of money earned from sales of smuggled coal into the ruling party’s funds. “I have even shown some documents in a few of my rallies showing how money was being deposited in Naroola’s account. The CBI is probing,” said Suvendu Adhikari, the former TMC leader who has now joined the BJP.

Referring to the alleged kingpin named in the FIR, Union MoS Babul Supriyo said: “CBI should probe the accounts where Anup Majhi’s money has been transferred to. Once the ear has been pulled, the head will follow.”

TMC leaders, meanwhile, hit out at the Centre and claimed that the CBI’s move was an attempt to “defame” Abhishek before the case comes up before a special court Monday.

“It is a conspiracy. Without any evidence, (Union Home Minister) Amit Shah has defamed Abhishek Banerjee. The matter is in court, which has summoned the Home Minister or his representative to appear before the special judge tomorrow. A day before that, such an action by the CBI is politically motivated,” said TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh.

Senior TMC leader and MP Saugata Roy said the action was “predictable”. “It was so predictable. All the allies have left them (BJP). The only loyal allies are CBI and ED. We will fight it out. We are not scared. We believe the people will give a befitting reply during voting,” Roy said.

The move was also questioned by the CPI(M) and Congress, which have tied up for the polls, although both welcomed the investigation.

“The people want a free and fair investigation. But this could have been done two years ago. Why now, before the polls? Since Delhi wants, they are serving the notice,” CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of Congress said: “We wanted such an investigation by the CBI, and the truth should come out. Whoever is being summoned should cooperate with the CBI.”

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