Post-poll violence: SC admits Bengal plea over Calcutta HC order

A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose said the state government’s case for an appeal against the high court’s August 19 order was made . However, it did not bar the CBI from filing fresh cases.
Post-poll violence in Kolkata (ANI)
Post-poll violence in Kolkata (ANI)
Published on Sep 28, 2021 11:50 PM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admitted the West Bengal government’s plea challenging the Calcutta high court’s order for a CBI investigation into the post-poll violence in the state. However, it did not bar the central agency from filing fresh cases.

A bench of justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose said the state government’s case for an appeal against the high court’s August 19 order was made out. But when senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the West Bengal government, asked the court to consider issuing an order that “further investigation by CBI shall be subject to the outcome of the appeals”, the court refused to do so and instead posted the matter for hearing on October 7. “Nothing is going to happen in one week,” the bench said as it sought responses from the central government, Election Commission of India, National Human Rights Commission, and West Bengal Human Rights Commission. It also sent a notice to Priyanka Tibrewal of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of the petitioners before the Calcutta high court who is contesting the by-elections against chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Bhabanipur on September 30.

Earlier in the day, the top court asked the West Bengal government to briefly indicate the reasons for their challenging the HC order. Sibal crystallised his arguments into seven points, which the bench referred to as the “lucky seven”.

The moot point was the definition of what constituted “post poll violence”. Sibal asked the court to fix the time period of “post poll”. The state argued that the HC considered complaints just after May 2 when the model code of conduct was in vogue and the Election Commission was responsible for maintaining law and order. But more complaints continued to be filed that extended from May 5, when Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister, up to July.

Sibal also argued that the seven-member committee set up by the National Human Rights Commission on the direction of the HC whose report formed the basis of the HC judgment was biased as three lead members of it — Rajiv Jain, Atif Rasheed and Rajulben Desai — had alleged links with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party in power at the Centre.

HC had also set up a special investigation team monitored by former Calcutta HC chief justice Manjula Chellur.

“This kind of proceeding has never happened in the past. Some of these members have stated on their Twitter handles their association with BJP. Their report was not shared with the state despite request made to the Court. The chart filed by the state police indicating status of probe into complaints was dismissed as it was not accompanied by an affidavit. The fundamental rule of natural justice was denied to the state,” Sibal submitted before the top court.

“The High Court castigates the state and passes strictures against us based on facts gathered by the Committee. This is published in all newspapers and the reputation of the state is at stake. Only way facts can be discovered is through a criminal investigation prescribed under the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Protection of Human Rights Act for probing human rights violations. This Committee had no powers of investigation. And the Court followed a procedure unknown to law,” Sibal said.

The state asked the court if it was fair to appoint people affiliated to a political party against another “in a federal system of governance, when electoral battle is bitterly fought between two political parties having ideological differences”.

“Nobody knows the remit of this Committee and despite no direction to submit interim report, the Committee submits one and it is relied upon by the Court treating allegations in complaints as established facts. It is hard to understand how this bifurcation is made by which rape and murder cases go to CBI while all other cases of violence are with SIT,” Sibal added.

The state also objected to the HC ordering en masse transfer of complaints pending investigation by the state police without undertaking a case-to-case analysis. The state received over 2,800 complaints that led to 651 criminal cases and 405 non-cognisable reports, but over 1,300 were found to be bogus and dismissed.

“The High Court gave the state seven days to come out with the investigation report,” Sibal said, citng the example of Muzaffarnagar riots where the Supreme Court analysed each case probed by Uttar Pradesh Police for over five months. “Can anybody find out the truth of the substance in these thousands of complaints in seven days?” the state questioned.

“On the face of it, we find you have made out a case for issuance of notice,” the bench told Sibal, adding that some of the issues raised are “unchartered”. But the court added that it needed to hear the other side too before proceeding with the matter.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021