The Supreme Court Tuesday directed Kolkata Police chief Rajeev Kumar to appear before the CBI and "faithfully" cooperate in the probe into the Saradha chit fund scam but said he must not be arrested, an order over which both West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the Centre claimed moral victory. The direction by the apex court came as the sit-in by Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress(TMC) supremo, against the CBI's attempt to question Kumar in connection with chit fund scams entered the third day in Kolkata.
The tense stand-off between the CBI and the Kolkata police disrupted proceedings in Parliament for the second consecutive day amid protests by opposition parties, including the TMC, SP and Congress over alleged misuse of the CBI in West Bengal. Banerjee said the court direction that no coercive steps, including arrest of Kumar, will take place during the course of investigation, is "our moral victory and boost the morale of civil servants".
Banerjee said she was not fighting for the Kolkata Police commissioner, whom she described as a 'simple man who had put in 34 years of service", but for millions of people of the country. The order is a victory of the common man, democracy and the Constitution, Banerjee told reporters at her dharna venue.
"There must be some story behind this. Nobody can dare to speak against (Narendra) Modi. Our's is a mass agitation and we are going to fight it unitedly," she said. The Centre on its part said the court order directing Kumar to make himself available before the CBI was a "blow" to the Banerjee government and a moral victory for the investigating agency.
Welcoming the order, senior BJP leader and union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said it showed that nobody is above the law, including the police commissioner. Echoing Prasad's views, Union minister Smriti Irani said political histrionics of Banerjee have been brought to a screeching halt by the apex court.
The apex court directed that Kumar will appear before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigation at Shillong, the Meghalaya capital, and no coercive steps, including his arrest, will take place during the course of the probe. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi also issued a notice to Kumar and sought his response before February 20, the next date of hearing, on the allegations by the CBI he was tampering with electronic evidence and that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the West Bengal police headed by him provided the agency with doctored material.
During the hearing, which lasted for about 15 minutes, Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta alleged that the SIT was not handing over complete documents to the CBI and that some of the documents given by it were doctored. Narrating the sequence of events of the Saradha scam since it was unearthed in 2014, they alleged that Kumar was not cooperating in the investigation of the cases arising out of the scam, which was handed over to the CBI by the Supreme Court.
The CBI has alleged that the state SIT had not given the complete call data details and there was serious omission or commission wilfully done by the SIT. "What was given to us were doctored copy of call records," the AG said, mentioning "the chit fund scam concerning the Rose Valley case was a case of cheating, involving Rs 15,000 crore.".
While he was making submissions, the bench proposed to pass an order that it will direct Kumar to make himself available for the investigation. "No reason why he will not make himself available for the investigation," the bench said.
Lakhs of depositors in several eastern states including West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand were duped by the promoters of Saradha and Rose Valley groups of their hard earned money. The size of the Saradha swindle is pegged at roughly Rs 4,000 crore. The court also directed the West Bengal chief secretary, the director general of police (DGP) and the Kolkata Police commissioner to file replies on the contempt pleas filed against them by the CBI on or before February 18.
The bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna, said on the consideration of replies of the chief secretary, the DGP and the Kolkata police commissioner, the court might prefer the personal appearance of these three authorities on February 20. The apex court's secretary general will inform them on February 19 whether they are required to be present before the apex court on February 20, the bench said.
During the hearing, Venugopal also narrated the incident of detention of CBI officials who reached Kolkata Police chief's residence on Sunday for questioning him. Venugopal said 25 CBI officials were bundled into a bus and taken to the police station, and even joint director of CBI Vikas Shrivastav's house was under seige of the police.
He said the entire family of Shrivastav kept themselves locked in the house while the personnel of the state police were banging their doors. Such a stand taken by the West Bengal government manifests that there is total breakdown of constitutional mechanism and there will be serious repercussion if such happenings continues, the AG said.
However, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the West Bengal police, rejected the allegations of the CBI, saying it is an attempt to harass and humiliate Kumar. He even tried to refer to an order of the apex court in which he said the role of the SIT was appreciated and it was clearly stated that the probe in the chit fund cases can be transferred to the CBI because it involved multi-state operations.
Singhvi said till now no FIR has been lodged against Kumar and he has not even been made an accused in any of the cases arising out of the chit fund scam. The Kolkata police commissioner was served notice thrice and there was an intervention of the Calcutta High Court so he has not appeared before the CBI, he said
Referring to the events of Sunday when the CBI officials had go to Kumar's residence in connection with the probe, Singhvi said such a step against the Kolkata police chief was taken after a gap of three years. The Sunday events took place two days after a political rally in the state, he added.
The West Bengal Police and Kumar are fully cooperating with the agency and the DGP had written five letters to the CBI in connection with the probe, he claimed. Kumar has also conveyed to the CBI that the agency's officials can come to his office anytime or they can meet him at any of the central places in the city, Singhvi said.
He said there was no destruction of evidence which the CBI is claiming after five years of investigation. The Calcutta High Court, meanwhile, adjourned hearing on the West Bengal government's plea against the CBI's attempt to enter Kumar's residence for questioning.
(With inputs from agencies.)