The Supreme Court Friday withdrew its order granting protection from arrest to former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in the Saradha chit fund case. Asking the CBI to act in accordance with the law, it granted Kumar seven days to seek suitable legal remedies during which period he will not be arrested.
The CBI had earlier sought the court’s permission to interrogate the officer in custody, triggering a war of words between the BJP-led Centre and TMC-ruled West Bengal.
Deciding the CBI application, the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna expressed “regret” and said “we acknowledge and accept that despite orders and words of advice, antagonism and acrimony has escalated and not ebbed as is evident from the pleading and arguments addressed before us”.
It is learnt that Kumar — he was removed as West Bengal ADG (CID) by the Election Commission two days ago and told to report to the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi — plans to approach the Calcutta High Court or the sessions court to seek anticipatory bail.
Kumar’s lawyer Biswajit Deb told The Indian Express: “In my opinion, it is a balanced order. On one side, the court has removed interim protection and asked CBI that they investigate the matter in accordance with law. But simultaneously, they have also been told that no coercive action be taken for seven days. The court also said that he has liberty to approach any appropriate court for relief. We are exploring all options.”
With lawyers on strike in Bengal courts, sources said Kumar may bring a lawyer from outside the state to appeal on his behalf.
Recording its “disappointment and dismay” at the “confrontation” between the CBI and West Bengal police despite its orders which sought to allay this, the CJI bench said: “They have forgotten that the primary purpose and role of the police is to investigate crime, collect evidence and prosecute the offenders. Situation is grim as both sides have hardened their stand and there is no administrative mechanism in place to avoid and resolve such conflicts between the two wings of the police force in the country. At the receiving end are silently waiting lakhs of small town and rural investors who have been deprived and looted of their savings.”
By its February 5 order, the Supreme Court had asked Kumar to appear before the CBI for questioning in Shillong and barred the agency from taking any coercive steps including arrest. That order had come two days after the CBI claimed that some of its personnel, who had gone to the residence of Kumar in connection with the investigation, were held hostage.
The CBI, which had taken over the Saradha case investigation from the state police, filed a plea for contempt and another application for modifying the February 5 order. Deciding this, the bench said Friday that with its February 5 directions “we had attempted to resolve the controversy by ensuring interrogation of Mr Rajeev Kumar, in view of the allegations made by the CBI, yet, concomitantly barred the CBI from arresting Mr Rajeev Kumar. This, however, has not worked out”.
The CBI had sought custodial interrogation of Kumar claiming he was the “day-to-day in-charge of the SIT, appointed by the state government, investigating into the chit-fund scam cases”, and there was prima facie evidence that he was trying to destroy evidence to “shield the high and mighty” in the case — the CBI was pointing to members and leaders of the TMC.
The West Bengal government, state police and Kumar denied the charges and alleged political vendetta behind the developments.
On Friday, after the Supreme Court decision, the TMC and BJP returned to their war of words on the issue.
West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said: “All independent agencies, including CBI are controlled by BJP. We are not thinking about Rajeev Kumar. The Modi government is using a Constitutional body like CBI for political vendetta against Mamata Banerjee. He is doing so to serve his political needs and to crush the voice of Opposition. It is the Modi government which is dragging government officials into politics. People will anyway throw him out on May 23.”
BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said: “Those lakhs of people who have lost everything in chit funds are now feeling they will get justice. Our Chief Minister who led a dharna on the streets of Kolkata to save Kumar may now be feeling disturbed. The direction of Supreme Court has made Trinamool Congress worried. If Rajeev Kumar is arrested by CBI, there will be a long queue of Trinamool Congress leaders entering jail. We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court.”