The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to the Mamata Banerjee government on a contempt plea by the CBI which alleged “total breakdown of Constitutional machinery” in West Bengal, and directed Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar to appear before the agency in Shillong in connection with the investigation in the chit fund scam cases.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, however, restrained the agency from initiating any coercive action against the officer or arresting him. “Having heard learned counsel for the parties, we direct Shri Rajeev Kumar, Commissioner of Police, Kolkata to appear and make himself available before the investigating agency, namely, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and to faithfully cooperate with the investigating agency at all times. However, we make it clear that no coercive steps, including arrest, shall be taken against the Commissioner of Police. To avoid all unnecessary controversy, we direct the Commissioner of Police to appear before the investigating agency in Shillong, Meghalaya on such date(s) as may be fixed”, the bench ordered.
The court asked WB Chief Secretary, Director General of Police and Kumar to file their replies to the CBI’s allegations by April 18 and cautioned them that their personal presence “may” be required at the next date of hearing. The bench added it will decide this only after going through their replies.
“We further make it clear that on consideration of the replies of the aforesaid three authorities, the Court may require the personal presence of the said officers on 20.2.2019, which presence, if required, would be intimated to the officers concerned by the Secretary General of this Court on 19.2.2019,” the order stated.
Appearing for the CBI, Attorney General K K Venugopal severely criticised the actions of the state police which he said had “attacked” the CBI officials who were acting in pursuance of Supreme Court orders. “The state is prepared to attack the police force of Centre… means total breakdown of Constitutional machinery,” the AG said, urging the court to issue contempt notice. He explained that the CBI had taken over the investigation into the chit fund cases from the SIT in 2016 following the apex court’s order. Consequently, the SIT handed over the case materials to the agency which however had doubts that some of these were “doctored”, the AG said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out that the DGP was the head of the SIT which probed the chit fund cases, including the multi-crore Saradha and Rose Valley scams, before they were transferred by the Supreme Court to the CBI on May 9, 2014, but Kumar was in charge of its day-to-day functions.
“We had some doubts on documentation that was handed over,” the AG told the bench, explaining why it had decided to summon Kumar.
The AG said the SIT had returned the cell phone of Sudipto Sen (main accused in Saradha scam) to him and call records supplied to CBI were not complete. The laptop and cell phone were not sent for forensic examination to recover data, he said adding “doctored call records were given to us”.
Venugopal alleged that “there was a serious omission or wilful commission” on the part of the IPS officer. At this, the CJI said that Kumar should not have any difficulty cooperating with the probe and the court would issue notice on the contempt plea. The AG replied that the contempt charge was far more serious. CJI Gogoi remarked that “we will have to examine that, will have to issue notice and hear the other side”.
Venugopal then took the court into what allegedly transpired in Kolkata Sunday evening. He said the CBI officials were pushed into buses and local police surrounded the residence of the agency’s joint director. His daughter and wife were home at that time and he did not open the door, the AG submitted, adding that forces withdrew only after the joint director spoke to the media and the news spread.
Appearing for the state, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it was “only an attempt to harass”.
Singhvi said the Calcutta High Court had directed not to give effect to the notices issued by the CBI to the officers of the SIT and this was applicable to Kumar as well. Seeking to give political colour to the developments, Singhvi asked: “If you are willing to come on a Sunday, two days after a rally, last day of the outgoing CBI interim chief (M Nageswara Rao) chief, then should they not have gone to High Court and ask for a modification?”
Mehta countered this and said the HC had not given any such protection. Singhvi questioned the claim that Kumar had destroyed evidence and exclaimed that no FIR was filed for this till date. The senior counsel said Kumar had written to the agency asking the personnel to come to his office or some central place in Kolkata for the investigation, but there was no response. He termed it an “attempt to humiliate” and “to score a point”. He said the Supreme Court had appreciated the work of the SIT constituted by the state and had transferred the cases only because multiple states were involved.