A massive unprecedented showdown struck between the Kolkata Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation on Sunday, 3rd February. Chaos broke loose as a CBI team landed up at the residence of Police Commissioner of Kolkata, Rajeev Kumar, to question him on the Saradha Chit Fund Scam. This led to a staged public protest by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who questioned the central government on the grounds of controlling the autonomous institute of CBI, calling it ‘BJP Bureau of Investigation’.
Mamata Banerjee and the Dharna
On Sunday evening, a team of 40 CBI officials arrived at Kumar’s residence in Kolkata on the grounds of Kumar allegedly doctoring evidence and shielding the accused. However, they were stopped by the Kolkata Police and subsequently, five CBI officials were detained after the scuffle. Justifying the move, Pravin Tripathi, Joint Commissioner Crime, Kolkata Police, claimed that the CBI team had failed to produce any ‘papers‘ regarding their raid at the top cop’s residence and alleged that it was a ‘secret operation‘ by the CBI.
Mamata Banerjee was prompt to show her discontentment regarding the proceedings that took place. She immediately declared a self proclaimed protest against the centre, alleging that the the ruling party has been trying to extend its hegemony over the autonomous institutes of India for its political gains ahead of the elections. Banerjee took to the stage in Kolkata and was articulate in her disapproval as she said, “There is total constitutional breakdown. It is my job to protect my officers“. “They (the BJP) cannot fight it politically. That is why they are resorting to all this. Mr. Ajit Doval is doing whatever PM wants him to do, he is the one giving all the instructions to the CBI“, she said.
The Law and the Feud
Unlike the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is governed by its own NIA Act and has jurisdiction across the country, the CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that makes consent of a state government mandatory for conducting investigation in that state. Given that the CBI has jurisdiction only over central government departments and employees, it can investigate a case involving state government employees or a violent crime in a given sate only after the state government gives it consent. On this basis, Mamata Banerjee disapproved of the centre’s methods which resulted in a federal rift between the centre and state while seeking political benefits.
The Saradha Chit Fund Scam and the Passing Baton of Investigation
The Saradha group was an umbrella company of around 200 private players, that came into existence in 2006. The group lured millions of investors to deposit money into their schemes promising abnormally high returns. The group collapsed in 2013 when it ran out of cash flow to return to its depositors. The group was under scrutiny of the SEBI in 2009 when the left front was in power and consequently warned the Banerjee led government in 2011 about the group’s chit fund activities. Based on the inactivity by the residing government, SEBI, in 2012, asked Saradha to discontinue its operations, but the group did not comply. As a result, in 2013, group chairman Sudipta Sen revealed in an 18-page letter that a large number of politicians were involved in the scam. Sen fled the state but was finally arrested along with his aides Debjani Mukherjee and Arvind Singh Chauhan in Sonmarg, Kashmir.
The Mamata Banerjee led government had announced that a committee led by retired chief justice of Allahabad High Court Shyamal Kumar Sen would inquire into the scam and also announced a Rs.500 crore relief fund for all its low income depositors. The government also set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) consisting of officers from the state’s CID and the Kolkata Police to investigate the scam. Soon after the formation, the SIT arrested TMC MP Kunal Ghosh but did not question other TMC leaders such as Madan Mitra and Mukul Roy, whose names were already linked to the scam.
In May 2014, the Supreme Court transferred all the investigations into the scam to the CBI. TMC MP Srinjoy Bose, West Bengal Director General of Police, Rajat Majumdar and transport minister Madan Mitra, were arrested by the CBI in 2014.
After the arrest of Mitra, Banerjee led a protest rally against the CBI’s handling of the case. In January 2015, the CBI called TMC General Secretary, Mukul Roy in for questioning. In September 2017, Roy resigned from TMC and joined BJP a month later.
Rajeev Kumar headed the SIT set up by the government in 2013. The CBI now claims that Kumar’s team had seized some crucial evidence that was not coughed up while handing over the case to them. The CBI also claims that they had been trying to question Kumar for the last few years and Banerjee on the other hand has come out strongly in support of Kumar who had been designated as the head of the SIT by her.
The Supreme Court Judgement
The Mamata Banerjee government faced a setback when the plea by CBI in the Supreme Court of India directed Kolkata Police Commissioner, Rajeev Kumar to make himself available to CBI investigations related to the Saradha chit fund scam.
The Chief Justice of India said that the apex court will direct Rajeev Kumar to co-operate with the investigation. SC, however, said that Kumar should not be arrested in the case nor should any other coercive action be taken against him. CJI said that Kumar should meet with CBI officials in Shillong. The court also issued contempt notices to the DGP and police commissioner along with West Bengal chief secretary for allegedly detaining the CBI probe team. The notices will be responded to by Feb 18 and the case will come up on Feb 20.
Addressing the media minutes after the verdict, Mamata Banerjee termed the verdict as a moral victory. “We see this as a moral victory because we respect the judiciary. We always wanted to co-operate.”
Mamata Banerjee garnered support from a number of Opposition leaders who announced that they were with Banerjee in the war on CBI’s actions in the state. Congress President Rahul Gandhi extended support to Mamata Banerjee and called upon the opposition to stand united against the Narendra Modi government. Arvind Kejriwal called it a ‘mockery‘ of democracy and the federal structure. Akhilesh Yadav, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Raj Thackeray, Lalu Prasad and Chandrababu Naidu were the few other who took to media to condemn the actions in the state.
Meanwhile, at the BJP press conference, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar responded to Mamata’s description of ‘emergency’, saying, “This is not Narendra Modi’s emergency but Mamata Banerjee’s emergency in Bengal.” “She is on a dharna to save herself“, he added.
Hypocrisy and Destruction of the Constitution and the Federal Structure
Narendra Modi has been severely criticized for single handedly hijacking the reins of different autonomous institutions of India through his tenure. The cases of Judge Loya’s untimely death, appointment of Dipak Misra as the Chief Justice of India over Jasti Chelameswar, removal of CBI director Alok Verma after the reinstating of him by the Supreme Court through the committee led by Narendra Modi and not taking into consideration the defense ministry’s recommendations on the Rafale deal serve as some of the recent illustrations.
Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of the protest led by Mamata Banerjee cannot be sidelined as well. She intends to protect the officers that she appointed, maybe to safeguard herself from severe implications that are to come if the top cop is arrested. Throughout the course, Mamata has been persistent to drive the investigation through her own track.
Both the political parties have created a gimmick out of this proceeding and have developed their own narratives to help them gain political advantages over each other in the upcoming elections. Whilst Modi has been unsuccessful in bringing corruption to a halt, Mamata is giving herself a far flung shot at becoming the Prime Minister through mud slinging.
Sources- The Indian Express, The Hindu, HT
Image Credits- HT, Newsable, TOI