Party unmoved: We shall go to higher court, won’t expel Dutta
Barely a whisper away from the general elections, West Bengal’s ruling CPM was dealt a body blow on Tuesday when a district court pronounced prominent party worker Suhrid Dutta and his accomplice Debu Malik guilty of murdering Tapasi Malik — the 18-year-old Trinamool Congress sympathiser, whose badly-burnt body was found inside the Nano project site on December 18, 2006.
Additional District and Sessions Judge of the Chandernagore fast-track court, Amar Kanti Acharya, will decide on the punishment on Wednesday.
The ruling party, however, is putting up a brave face and has decided it will continue to support Suhrid Dutta — its “old comrade” and former CPM zonal secretary in Singur, Hooghly. The state leadership announced it would challenge the court’s verdict in the higher ranks of the judiciary. There was also no talk of expulsion.
Tapasi Malik’s murder was a watershed in the Opposition’s protest against the ‘forceful’ acquisition of farmland for the now-abandoned Nano project. Following a flurry of remonstrations that culminated in a long sit-in demonstration by Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee, the state government handed over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation. It was also found that Tapasi — a member of the Save Farmland Committee — had been raped and murdered before her body was set on fire.
On Tuesday, Tapasi’s father Manoranjan Malik said: “We were confident of justice. I am happy my daughter’s murderers were finally found guilty. Now I want them to be hanged.”
Earlier in the day, the two accused Dutta and Debu Malik were brought to the court amid tight security. The magistrate declared the two guilty under Sections 120(B), 302, 201 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which relate to murder, criminal conspiracy and tampering with evidence. He declared the verdict before a packed courtroom at 1.30 pm.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee welcomed the judgment. “We are happy with the CBI probe. The chief minister should take responsibility of his partyman’s deeds and resign,” she said.
But the CPM was unflappable. The party’s district secretariat member from Hooghly Balai Sanpui said:
“There is no question of expelling Dutta. The legal battle is not over yet.”
Dutta’s advocate Arindam Bhattacharjee said: “We will move a higher court after the quantum of punishment is defined. Today’s judgment was a miscarriage of justice.” Malik’s advocate Kishor Mondal said he would also challenge the lower court’s judgment.
CBI’s advocate Partha Tapaswi said: “The minimum and maximum punishments for one found guilty for murder and criminal conspiracy are life and the death penalty respectively.”
Dutta’s elder brother, Saroj Dutta, who is secretary of the CPM’s local committee in Bora, Singur, said: “We will unite the masses to defeat the conspiracy against my brother and the party.”
The Chandernagore court had a rough time during the day with both the CPM and the Trinamool outbidding each other on a show of strength. There were hundreds of party workers waiting outside to hear the verdict. Trinamool men also tried to break down the heavy police cordon around the accused when they were on their way to court from the Chandernagore sub-divisional correctional home.
Several senior CPM district committee members, including MPs Rupchand Paul and Santashree Chatterjee, were also present in court.