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ED officials attacked during raid in Bengal

By, Kolkata
Jan 06, 2024 06:08 AM IST

ED officers attempting to raid the house of a TMC leader in West Bengal were attacked by a mob, triggering a Centre vs state row and deepening cracks within the Opposition alliance. The officers sustained injuries after being chased and pelted with bricks and stones. The attack has prompted condemnation and accusations of a breakdown of law and order in the state. The TMC dismissed the allegations, saying that the officials of the central agency incited locals leading to the situation. The ED will file an FIR in the case of the attack on its officers.

A team of officers from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attempting to raid the house of a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader in West Bengal was attacked by a hundreds-strong mob on Friday morning, triggering a Centre vs state row and deepening cracks within the Opposition alliance.

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At least three ED officers sustained injuries after they were chased by the mob and pelted with bricks and stones at Sandeshkhali in the North 24 Parganas district while trying to search the premises of Shahjahan Sheikh, the local TMC convener, in connection with a multi-crore ration distribution scam.

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“Three officers have suffered grievous injuries as the mob has marched towards ED officials with an intention to cause death… other officers had to escape from the place of the incident without conducting search to save their lives as the mob became very violent,” ED said in a statement.

The agency – which already arrested state food minister Jyotipriyo Mullickin October in connection with the case – said that the mob comprising 800-1,000 people attacked ED officials and 27 accompanying paramilitary personnel with sticks, stones and bricks, while shouting slogans against the agency and the central government. ED vehicles were also badly damaged, the statement added. Sheikh is an associate of Mullick.

“We are taking legal opinion,” said a senior ED official, adding that the Union home ministry was informed of the incident.

The unprecedented attack prompted a wave of condemnation, with state governor CV Ananda Bose summoning chief secretary BP Gopalika, home secretary Nandini Chakraborty and director general of police Rajiv Kumarseeking a report on the matter.

“The sole responsibility for the wanton violence lies with the (state) government. If government fails in its basic duty then the Constitution of India will definitely take its course. As governor, I reserve all my constitutional options for appropriate action at the appropriate moment,” Bose said in a video message.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said law and order was coming apart in the state on chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s watch. Addressing reporters in Delhi, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said, “The ED officers, who were carrying out an investigation, came under attack by TMC goons and Rohingyas, who infiltrated Bengal. Jungle Raj is prevailing in West Bengal under the very nose of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.”

Union minister of state for home Nisith Pramanik termed the incident an attack on the Constitution and the nation’s federal structure. “I condemn what happened in Sandeshkhali. No issue could be more contemptuous than attacking a central agency going to a state. It’s not just an attack on the team of a central agency but on the entire Constitution,” he said.

He found surprising support from the Congress, an ally of the TMC as part of the 28-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA).

Senior Congress leader and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged that he would not be surprised if any official is “murdered” in the state in the future. “After the attack by goons of the ruling government on ED officials, it is clear that there is no law and order in the state. Today, they were injured, tomorrow they can be murdered. Such a thing would not come as a surprise to me,” he said.

The TMC dismissed the allegations, saying that the officials of the central agency incited locals leading to the situation.

“The central agency went for a raid without informing police or the state government. Is this an example of following the norms of federal structure,” TMC leader Shashi Panja said. She also criticised the governor for his “biased” statements and “dared” the opposition to implement President’s Rule and topple a democratically elected government.

ED had registered a Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) in April 2022 based on five FIRs registered by the West Bengal government between 2020 and 2022 in various police stations in Nadia district against siphoning of government food grains. On October 14, 2023, ED arrested businessman Bakibur Rahaman who allegedly siphoned off rice and wheat, meant to be supplied to ration distributors, to sell them in the open market. Bakibur had close ties with Mullick. The state food minister was arrested on October 27.

State police detained a few persons for questioning. None were arrested till Friday evening. “We didn’t receive any official complaint from ED. A few persons have been detained for interrogation. None have been arrested,” said Joby Thomas SK, superintendent of Basirhat police district.

Later in the day, ED said it will file an FIR in the case of attack on its officers, according to a report by news agency PTI. It will also seek strengthening of the security cover to its officials and offices present in the state, the PTI report said.

Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta high court asked while hearing a separate case why the governor was not declaring that the constitutional machinery in the state had collapsed.

The attack further ratcheted up tensions between the central and state governments, and underlined the contradictions within the INDIA bloc at a time many opposition parties have accused the Centre of using federal agencies to target political opponents. Sheikh, who was earlier with the Left Front, joined the TMC in 2013 and contested the 2023 panchayat polls. He is a zilla parishad member and is known for his hold in the brick kiln and fishery business in the area.

As part of its ongoing investigation, an ED team reached Sheikh’s house around 7:10 am on Friday and found the house locked from the inside.

ED officials said they called the family members several times but didn’t receive a response. “As officers with the assistance of CRPF personnel were trying to get the door opened, even by trying to contact the concerned person. His mobile location at that time indicated that he was inside this house,” the agency statement said.

Around half an hour later, the ED team was confronted by a mob of around 800-1000 people marching with weapons such as lathis, stones, bricks in their hands.

“There were eight of us in team. Me and another officer were injured in the head. We somehow managed to flee. I lost contact with the others,” said a second ED officer, requesting anonymity. The agency said the mob snatched and stole the personal and official belongings of ED officials such as mobile phones, laptop, cash and wallets.

“TMC leaders are being harassed for nothing. ED and CBI are carrying out BJP’s orders. This is a conspiracy. Why would they come without giving any notice?” said a member of the mob.

Police said they had no information about the raid.

“ED officials didn’t inform us that they were going to conduct a raid. At around 8:20 am, Sandeshkhali police station received an email that ED officials were going for a raid. We came to know much later that the raid started around 7 am. By the time we received the email, the incident has already happened,” said an IPS officer, requesting anonymity.

“Moreover, even though the email was sent to Sandeshkhali police station, the incident took place under under the jurisdiction of Najat police station. The local police got the news from villagers and rushed to the spot,” the officer quoted above said.

A local villager who witnessed the incident said ED officials were dragged out and beaten up, and some had to run for their lives. Top ED officials in Kolkata rushed to the hospital to gauge the situation and sent a preliminary report to headquarters in Delhi. The other teams were asked to return from the spots.

Simultaneous raids were also carried out at the residence and offices of another local leader Shankar Adhya and his relatives in the same district. That operation passed off without any untoward incident.

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