On the night of Independence Day, as the celebrations on Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav were yet to die down, official files were stolen from the highly secure Tripura Police Headquarters, and many others damaged. The matter was embarrassing enough for the Tripura Police and the BJP government. What has followed is even more so, with varied versions regarding the number of files stolen, police giving different accounts on how many had been recovered and who the accused were, and the Opposition wondering why.
The first official statement about the theft was issued by the Tripura Police on August 16, saying: “Some bundles of files meant for weeding, destruction and also some dormant files lying in an isolated cabin of PHQ were stolen / damaged by miscreants on the intervening night of August 15-16.” While it didn’t clarify what the files were about, it said “a bulk of the stolen files” were recovered the same day and two accused arrested, based on an FIR lodged at the West Agartala Police Station.
“Security is being reviewed to prevent any recurrence and necessary action is being taken (over the) security lapse,” the police statement read.
Police officers refused to comment on the matter. Meanwhile, two days later, on August 18 evening, the Tripura Police issued a second press statement on the incident, this time calling it the handiwork of “drug addicts”, as per “preliminary investigation”, and adding that “all files” had been recovered “due to immediate action by police within a few hours of the incident”. The police statement said: “Five persons have been arrested… During preliminary investigation of the case, prima facie, it appears to be the work of drug addicts.”
The CPM and Congress have alleged that a section of the government and administration were involved in the incident and demanded a high-level probe. According to senior leaders of both parties, the files were not stolen, rather removed from the police headquarters with the help of insiders, and it was done to save influential people in the government or administration. Chief Minister Manik Saha holds the Home portfolio, to which police reports.
The two parties have also questioned the official version regarding the number of files stolen or damaged. The Congress claims 182 files were stolen, while sources in police said 165 files in all were stolen and recovered.
CPM leader and MLA Ratan Bhowmik said, “165 or 182? Which is true? There is reasonable ground to have suspicions regarding the entire issue.”
Senior Congress leader and MLA Sudip Roy Barman said there were “invisible hands” behind the theft. Former chief minister and CPM leader Manik Sarkar wrote to CM Manik Saha saying the incident was unprecedented and should not be treated as a simple theft.
Demanding that “brave senior officials” of the police and administration probe the matter, Sarkar wrote: “There are serious grounds to think (that) there is a section of the administration whose interests are involved in removal of these files from the police headquarters. It’s not unjustified to think (that) there is a deep-rooted conspiracy and mystery.”
In his first remarks on the theft, CM Saha echoed police. “All those responsible were arrested. Drug addicts were behind this mischief. I should not say anything negative, though Opposition parties spoke in a negative manner. Let me enquire. I can comment only after seeing the report,” he said.
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But the BJP too has backed the demand for a “deep” investigation into the matter. BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya said his party “shares the sentiments of Opposition parties” about the need to unearth the truth. However, he added, the BJP trusts police to find out the truth. If Opposition parties have any confidential information regarding the incident, they should share the same, Bhattacharya said.
A respected force, the Tripura Police received the prestigious President’s Colours in 2012, only the fourth police force in the country to have got the honour. It was felicitated for successfully combating armed insurgency and human rights violations.