In directing the Kolkatta Commissioner of Police Rajeev Kumar to appear before the CBI for questioning in connection with the multi-crore Saradha scam and at the same ordering the central agency not to arrest him or use other coercive action, the Supreme Court has averted a showdown between West Bengal and the Centre.
To avoid further unnecessary controversy, it has asked Rajeev Kumar before the CBI in a neutral place, Shillong in Meghalaya.
Attorney General K K Venugopal has sought to initiate contempt of court against the Bengal police for obstructing the CBI officers from doing their duty as they were mandated by the Supreme Court to investigate the case. But the apex court has only issued notice to the commissioner and the DPG as well Chief Secretary.
Calling the Supreme Court as a victory, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called off her dharna which she initiated after some 25 CBI men descended on the commissioner’s office on a Sunday to secure him.” They came to arrest and the court said no arrest”, she has said claiming moral victory.
It is debatable whether Banerjee did the right thing in sitting in a dharna and preventing the visiting CBI officials from securing Rajeev Kumar. But the chain events show that it is yet another case of brazen misuse of the CBI by the Modi Government to tarnish the image of Mamata and the Trinamool Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha polls with 42 seats up for grab. Another cruel irony, the CBI was used on the last day of head Nageshwa Rao’s term.
Why the haste? One reason is that the Kolkatta high court is hearing a petition from a batch of Bengal police officers in the SIT to protect them from coercive action by the CBI and the court fixed the next hearing for Feb 13. If it grants interim, the CBI will lose valuable. If by then, the Election Commission notifies the Lok Sabha elections all the plans of the Centre, and by the CBI, will come to naught. So this unseemly haste.
Now into substances of chargesagainst Bengal and the SIT chief.
When Saradha chit scam broke in 2013 Mamata ordered an SIT and its head was Rajeev Kumar. To protect small investors out of the nearly two million who were duped of close to over Rs 10,000 crore, she set apart Rs 500 crore to give immediate relief. Besides she also ordered a judicial enquiry.
The SIT also arrested several persons, including TMC functionaries.It was transferred to the CBI only in May 2014, not because Rajeev Kumar was not doing an efficient or honest job, but because scam affected not only West Bengal but also Assam and Tripura.
Two right-hand men of Mamata and top TMC leaders Mukhul Roy and Biswas defected to the BJP to escape from the CBI clutches. Predictably the CBI took the heat off them.
The main allegation of the CBI is Rajeev Kumar did not respond to repeated summons under Sec 160 of the Cr.P.C for questioning in connection with the case. Rajeev Kumar has on record has said that he is ready to appear as a witness. If the CBI has prosecutable case against him, it should have taken an arrest warrant in which he will not have make any statement that will incriminate himself.
So using time-tested police tactics, the CBI wanted to question and then arrest him on the basis of his own information, something forbidden in more advanced democracies like the US where no man can be touched unless the district attorney is satisfied that the police has a prosecutable case.
The second charge, a clear afterthought, is that Rajeev Kumar had tampered with documents, specifically call records, to shield TMC leaders. When the CBI team descended on Rajeev Kumar’s office it did not have a scrap of paper. As the Supreme Court pointed out the next day that it had no “concrete evidence” to show that he had tampered with documents
Finally, the case was handed over to the CBI five years ago. The CBI issued summons to Rajeev Kumar, three or four, only in the last eight months. If Rajeev Kumar had indeed tampered with evidence, it should have been done between 2013, when he was heading the SIT, and May 2014 when the case was given to the CBI. After five years what proof does the CBI hopes to find?
The whole drama has boomeranged on the BJP Government as the opposition has rallied behind Mamata.