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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Mamata-CBI fight festers, Supreme Court to hear plea of investigation agency today

The CBI approached the Supreme Court saying Kolkata Police commissioner Kumar was a potential accused in the Saradha chit fund scam and claimed the local police could be destroying crucial evidence.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2019 10:41 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Kolkata/New Delhi
Rajeev Kumar, Kolkata Police Commissioner, with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during West Bengal and Kolkata Police award ceremony beside the dharna stage at Esplanade in Kolkata on Monday.
Rajeev Kumar, Kolkata Police Commissioner, with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during West Bengal and Kolkata Police award ceremony beside the dharna stage at Esplanade in Kolkata on Monday.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)
         

A stand-off between the Kolkata Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that began over the weekend exploded into a controversy that reached Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Calcutta high court on Monday, raising political tensions as Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee — while at a sit-in she began the night before — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) traded sharp allegations.

The confrontation was triggered by a CBI team’s attempts to question commissioner of police, Kolkata, Rajeev Kumar in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam on Sunday evening – a move that Banerjee said was out of vendetta.

The local police took the unusual step of briefly detaining the federal agency’s officials, and by the end of the day, the CBI’s headquarters in Kolkata was secured by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that report to the Union home ministry in New Delhi.

“A clash like this, between law enforcement agencies, is not only unfortunate but is also dangerous for the country’s federal and political system,” Union home minister Rajnath Singh said amid loud jeers by Opposition MPs in Lok Sabha.

Singh’s comments came minutes after Trinamool’s Saugata Roy said the Union government was misusing the CBI to frame opponents.

Read more| Mamata makes history with cabinet meeting in traffic outpost

Singh is also believed to have received a report from Bengal governor KN Tripathi over Sunday evening’s development. “There may be breakdown of Constitution in West Bengal... under the Constitution, the central government has been vested with the power to maintain normalcy in any part of the country,” Singh said in Parliament.

Earlier, the CBI approached the Supreme Court saying Kolkata Police commissioner Kumar was a potential accused in the Saradha chit fund scam and claimed the local police could be destroying crucial evidence.

“If you have some material evidence that the commissioner of police was even remotely thinking of destroying evidence, we will come down so heavily on him, he will regret it,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, the lawyer for the agency. The court scheduled the matter for hearing on Tuesday.

In Kolkata, the state police issued summons to CBI joint director Pankaj Srivastava, asking him to appear as a witness in a police complaint related to a little-known ponzi scam complaint filed in 2017. Banerjee, meanwhile, stayed put at the sit-in that she began around 9pm on Sunday in the heart of Kolkata – using the day to hold meetings and even clear the state’s budget.

“All Opposition leaders from Arvind Kejriwal to MK Stalin, Chandrababu Naidu to Naveen Patnaik, called me and expressed their concern about the situation in the country and have supported our stand,” Banerjee said from a stage at the protest venue.

Read more| Mamata Banerjee vows to ‘save’ Constitution, Rajnath Singh cautions against its ‘breakdown’

Trinamool Congress supporters organised rallies against the BJP all over the state, at some places even blocking key highways and railways links.

In addition to Singh, a bevy of Union ministers and BJP leaders attacked the Trinamool chief for her protest. “The CM is protesting because Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar seems to be aware of many secrets and needed to be saved,” said Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at a press conference.

His Cabinet colleague, Prakash Javadekar, too attacked Banerjee during a press meeting, while a third BJP minister, Smriti Irani, said the Bengal chief minister must “answer why she stands with scamsters”.

Banerjee said the “Save Democracy” dharna would continue indefinitely but protest rallies will end on February 8, after which the administration will ban the use of speakers across the state due to school examinations that start from February 12.

Bengal’s advocate general Kishore Dutta approached the Calcutta high court and said the CBI had violated a stay the court gave on proceedings against summoning witnesses till February 13. While the state government counsel cited the stay on notices against police officers, CBI counsel Kaushik Chanda (additional solicitor general of India) argued the stay was specifically in relation to interrogation of four officers, not including the police commissioner.

Dutta argued against it, saying the order contained a sentence that read “Notices issued to the witnesses be kept in abeyance for the time being…” and argued that Kumar was covered under the same order as he was being summoned as a witness (like the other four).

The Saradha scam relates to a ponzi scheme in which at least a million depositors were duped of their savings after being promised unrealistic returns. The scam has involved several names from the ruling government, including Mukul Roy who is now in the BJP.

First Published: Feb 05, 2019 00:08 IST