A day after its move to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar on the chit funds scandal in West Bengal led to a standoff with the state government, the CBI approached the Supreme Court Monday, saying it “apprehends” Kumar is “destroying electronic evidence” and he should be directed to “immediately surrender/make himself available” for investigation.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna fixed 10.30 am Tuesday to hear the plea and said it will be open to the parties to produce any evidence to substantiate the CBI fear that anyone in West Bengal, including police, are planning to destroy evidence in the case.
During the hearing, the CJI observed that the bench had gone through the CBI application and found “nothing” in it to substantiate its apprehension about destruction of evidence. He also remarked “if you (CBI) can lay down any material… forget that he (police commissioner) is doing, that he is even remotely thinking, we will come down so heavily on him that he will regret it”.
Late Monday evening, an affidavit detailing the evidence against Kumar was said to have been prepared. It will be submitted to the court Tuesday. In Kolkata Monday, the West Bengal government sought immediate hearing on the CBI attempt to question Kumar but the Calcutta High Court declined to take it up urgently following objection by the central government counsel and listed the matter for Tuesday.
The state government counsel said that despite the High Court stay on notices against police officers, the CBI sought to enter Kumar’s residence on Sunday and question him. But this was countered by the other side which said the stay was specifically related to the questioning of three officers, Arnab Ghosh, Shankar Bhattacharya and Dilip Hazra. It was also pointed out that the CBI application was to be heard in the Supreme Court Tuesday.
The CBI application, narrating Sunday’s developments in Kolkata, said the “situation which was going on at the ground level… gives an inevitable impression that the Constitution of India has ceased to apply to the state of West Bengal, rule of law has broken down and the Writ and the judicial directions of this Hon’ble Court can be thrown to winds by hooliganism of the local police force at the behest of the accused persons”. It said “some of the CBI officers, including lady officers, were manhandled by the West Bengal police”.
Appearing for the CBI, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta mentioned the matter before the CJI-led bench as soon as it assembled for the day.
He told the bench that the agency was forced to approach the court because an “extraordinary situation” had arisen on account of its officers being kept “hostage” by the West Bengal police Sunday evening when they went to the residence of the police commissioner.
“As a glaring example of breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state, the CBI officers, who were acting in furtherance of the mandate of this Hon’ble Court, were not only prevented by the West Bengal police, but were taken in, rounded up and illegally confined,” the CBI’s application said, adding “the mobile phones of these officers were forcibly snatched by the West Bengal state police personnel”.
The Solicitor General pointed out that a “CBI Joint Director and family were kept hostage and CBI officials were under siege” and urged the court to hear the application Monday afternoon itself.
The CJI then inquired from him what was the present position. At this, Mehta said “they had been released after the Joint Director managed to speak to the media”.
He submitted that the CBI “apprehends” that the police commissioner who is a “potential accused” may try to destroy “electronic evidence”.
The CJI then asked Mehta what time was the application filed, noting that the bench had gone through it and had found “nothing” in it to substantiate the CBI apprehension about destruction of evidence.
The Solicitor General replied that when the application was prepared last night, the agency did not have access to the records as they were “under siege of local police”. Referring to the CBI’s apprehension, the CJI remarked “if you can lay down any material… forget that he is doing, that he is even remotely thinking, we will come down so heavily on him that he will regret it”.
Mehta said the agency was also pressing contempt charges as there were “positive orders” of the apex court transferring the probe in the chit fund cases to it and urged the court to consider it. But the bench said it will hear it Tuesday. Mehta also referred to the dharna by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee which was joined by some police officers and said it was an “unusual” situation where “personnel of uniformed services sit on dharna with a political party”.
When Mehta again referred to the possibility of destruction of electronic evidence, the CJI remarked that “electronic evidence can always be retrieved”. Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing West Bengal, said Kumar was not an accused but a witness in the case, and due process of law had not been followed by the CBI while summoning him.