An injured person being treated after clashes during the fourth phase of West Bengal assembly elections, in Cooch Behar district on April 10. (File photo)
An injured person being treated after clashes during the fourth phase of West Bengal assembly elections, in Cooch Behar district on April 10. (File photo)

NHRC calls for CBI probe into Bengal poll violence

It said at least 1,934 such complaints were filed in various police stations between May 2 and June 20. It added 29 complaints related to murder, 12 to rape and sexual assaults, and 940 to loot and arson, among others
By HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2021 02:34 AM IST

Incidents of post-poll violence in West Bengal should be federally probed and trials held outside the state, the National Human Rights Commission recommended to the Calcutta high court, slamming the state government and ruling party and calling the clashes a “death knell” for democracy.

The seven-member panel, set up on the high court’s order in June to look into clashes in the state after election results on May 2, submitted its report to the high court on Tuesday.

It said that at least 1,934 police complaints were lodged in the state between May 2 and June 20, including 29 complaints of murder, 12 of rape and sexual assault and 940 of loot and arson. Out of the 9,304 people named as accused, less than 3% are currently in jail, found the panel.

“The situation in the state of West Bengal is a manifestation of law of ruler, instead of rule of law...This was retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party,” said the 50-page report.

“It is indeed ironical that, in the land of Rabindranath Tagore...thousands of its citizens have been subjected to murder, rape, displacement and intimidation, etc. in the last couple of months,” it added.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee hit back at the panel, saying the report was misleading and facts distorted. “How many commissions and central agencies did the PM send to Uttar Pradesh?...they are misleading people and distorting facts,” Banerjee said.

Violence broke out in various parts of the state hours after the Trinamool Congress (TMC) trounced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to secure a third consecutive term on May 2. BJP leaders alleged that they were thrashed and threatened by TMC members, their houses ransacked and offices vandalised.

The TMC denied the charges and said that the BJP was trying to exaggerate isolated clashes.

On June 18, the high court -- hearing a bunch of public interest litigation -- asked NHRC to probe the violence. Three days later, it rejected the state government’s review petition and said the administration’s conduct didn’t inspire confidence.

The NHRC committee visited at least 311 spots and found that in 60% of the places FIRs were not registered.

“Out of the 9304 accused cited in the FIRs only 1354 (14%) have been arrested and, out of these arrested, 1086 (80%) are already on bail. Thus, overall speaking, less than 3% of the accused are in jail, while 97% are out in the open, making a mockery of the whole system,” the report stated, adding that police didn’t have the courage to take action against goons belonging to the ruling dispensation.

“Hence it is recommended that all heinous crimes, including murder, unnatural deaths, rape and grievous hurt, and complaints carrying these allegations should be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). . . Trial of all the above cases investigated by the CBI should be held outside the state,” the report recommended.

It also suggested a court-monitored special investigation team with a special public prosecutor, trial in fast track courts, deployment of central forces, and reforms in police.

“This may well be death knell for democracy in this great nation. It is high time that the rot is stemmed and this trend is reversed in the interest of having a vibrant democracy in this nation,” the committee said.

The panel recommended constituting a committee headed by a retired judge to monitor the implementation of the orders of the high court. The committee should have independent officers as observers in each of the affected districts.

“If the above mentioned worrisome trend is not arrested, where the entire might of the government machinery has been used for furthering the political objectives of the party in power, the disease may spread to other states also,” it noted.

The committee held a “pernicious politico- bureaucratic-criminal nexus” responsible for the violence and said many displaced people were scared to return and sexual assault victims scared to speak out due to palpable fear.

“The local police has been grossly derelict, if not complicit, in this violence..loss of faith in state administration among victims is very evident,” the report noted.

Banerjee said the panel was trying to malign the state after the BJP’s poll loss.

“How many commissions and central agencies did the PM send to Uttar Pradesh? Majority of the incidents (violence) took place when law and order was with the Election Commission. They are misleading people and distorting facts,” Banerjee said .

She also said. “We will submit our opinion through an affidavit to the court when our turn comes. I am sorry to say that instead of giving the report to the court they (NHRC) have leaked the reports. They should have respected the court. How can they disrespect the court? The matter is being heard by the court. We are the government and the court is yet to hear us. Before that how can they leak the reports? It is their political vendetta.”

The BJP attacked the ruling TMC.

“Any report which results in the embarrassment of the TMC is tagged as political vendetta. The NHRC team was assisted the by state police and state government officials when they were visiting the spots. The NHRC team was taken to the spots where violence was comparatively less. But still the report nails the government. So the NHRC report is just the tip of an iceberg. The report shows where democracy in the state. The TMC has not faith on any constitutional body,” said Samik Bhattacharya, BJP spokesperson in the state.

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