SC to hear Bengal’s plea against HC order on CBI probe into poll violence
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear on September 20 the West Bengal government’s plea against a Calcutta high court order directing court-monitored probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into allegations of rape, murder and attempt to murder during the post-poll violence earlier this year.
The court’s decision came after the Mamata Banerjee-led government cast aspersions on the members of the committee formed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), on whose recommendations the high court ordered the probe.
Appearing for the state, senior advocate Kapil Sibal told a bench of justices Vineet Saran and Aniruddha Bose that the appeal raised questions on the procedure adopted by five-judge high court bench before directing a CBI probe, monitoring of remaining offences by special investigation team (SIT) and payment of compensation to the victims.
“Look at the committee that gathered facts about the incidents and submitted a report to the high court. It was headed by Rajiv Jain who served as the Intelligence Bureau chief under the present government at the Centre till 2019. He was earlier joint director of IB when Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as Gujarat chief minister,” Sibal said.
The state’s counsel also alleged “bias” by two other members in the committee – Atif Rashid, vice chairman of National Minorities Commission and Rajulben Desai, a member of National Commission for Women.
“Is this a BJP investigation committee,” remarked Sibal, as he told the court, “Rashid served as president of BJP Minority Morcha, was a student leader of BJP’s youth wing ABVP in Satyawati College and later contested the Delhi municipal elections in 2021 on a BJP ticket.”
On Desai, Sibal said, “She was associated with Gujarat BJP Mahila Morcha in 2017 and was in charge of Gujarat BJP Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao project.”
When the bench said “if somebody has held a political post in the past, can we say that he is still biased”, Sibal pointed out that Rashid continues to make social media posts in favour of the BJP.
The court also sought to know if the Beti Bachao project to which Desai was linked was a party project or a state project. Stating that it was a party project, Sibal said: “From any objective standpoint, can you pick up such persons for investigating and picking facts, knowing the sensitivity attached to the case.”
Raising questions over the procedure to collect inputs on the violence, Sibal said: “The procedure was left to the committee as the court did not lay down the procedure for collection of facts.”
In the appeal, the state government further highlighted that the high court did not define what constituted “post poll violence”, giving instances of cases reported by the committee which were prior to May 2 (date of announcement of election result) and later than July, almost two months after the result declaration.
“Never before has en masse, the police force in a state lost confidence in the court,” Sibal said.
Though the decision of the high court bench was unanimous, the state government cited two contradictions on facts noted by one of the judges.
The state referred to justice Soumen Sen’s remarks which said, “I felt that having regard to the antecedents of Rajulben Desai and Atif Rashid, the inclusion of the said two members could have been avoided as it might raise reasonable likelihood of bias.”
Further, justice Sen had also said that post-poll violence must refer to incidents that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the election results.
The top court adjourned the matter to next week as one of the documents relied upon by state was not made available to the court in a reader-friendly format.
Sibal pressed for an earlier date, saying the CBI was proceeding ahead with the case. However, the top court said that by next week, it will have more time to go through the documents filed.
Pursuant to the direction by the high court on August 19, the CBI has initiated its probe and registered more than two dozen cases.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has been asked to provide security to members of the four CBI teams, comprising seven members in each team.
A three-member SIT is probing cases of arson and loot under the court’s supervision.