The Calcutta High Court on Thursday, while hearing a bunch of PILs alleging post-poll violence in West Bengal, handed over the probe to the CBI and a court-monitored SIT. A five-member bench of the high court headed by acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal had reserved its verdict on the matter on August 3. A number of petitioners had moved the high court earlier this year, alleging widespread post-poll violence in the state after the Trinamool Congress’ stunning return to power on May 2. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had formed a committee at the direction of the high court to probe the various complaints of post-poll violence in West Bengal.
Here’s all you need to know about the case:
On May 2, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC registered a thumping victory after a prolonged and heated war of words with main opponent BJP in the assembly elections. Soon after, reports emerged of post-poll violence in the state, with many people complaining of being assaulted, raped and houses burned down. The issue had come up before the High Court after many persons who had to flee their houses due to the violence approached the Court claiming that they were not being allowed to return home by TMC workers.
The High Court had, on May 31, ordered the formation of a three-member committee to ensure that persons displaced by post-poll violence in the State are able to return to their houses. The affected parties were directed to lodge complaints with the West Bengal State Legal Services Authority and the Committee was to examine them and take steps to ensure that people are allowed to return to their house. The WBSLSA then submitted a report to the Court detailing the complaints received by them and the effects of the post-poll violence.
The court proceeded to order NHRC intervention while also directing the State to ensure that the NHRC Committee be provided necessary assistance to visit affected areas. NHRC Chairperson, Justice Arun Mishra then constituted a seven-member committee to inquire into complaints regarding post-poll violence. The NHRC committee subsequently submitted a report accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of turning affairs in the State into the “law of ruler", instead of “rule of law."
It recommended that grievous offences including murder and rape should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigation, and that such cases should be tried outside the State.
Submissions by West Bengal
NHRC committee members were politically motivated
Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing on behalf of the Director-General of Police, (DGP) West Bengal submitted before the Court that the constitution of the NHRC committee was inherently biased and politically motivated. The senior counsel made a reference to the committee member Atif Rasheed who had previously contested elections on behalf of the BJP. It was also pointed out to the Court that Atif Rasheed had uploaded an interview with a Superintendent of Police on his Twitter handle on July 9 which indicates that a determination regarding the allegations of post-poll violence had already been made even before the submission of the NHRC committee report, Live Law reported.
The senior counsel further submitted that Rajulben L. Desai, another committee member also has a distinct affiliation with the BJP. In addition, Rajiv Jain another committee member was the former Director of the Intelligence Bureau.
NHRC report contains premeditated complaints
Senior Advocate Manu Singhvi further contended that the report submitted by the committee is riddled with cases that had been filed before the declaration of the elections results. The senior counsel then proceeded to apprise the Court of various examples of such premeditated complaints.
The senior counsel submitted that only those incidents that had taken place in the ‘immediate aftermath of the election result’ must be taken into consideration.
Discrepancies in victims’ statements
Senior counsel Singhvi also pointed out to the Court that there exists huge discrepancies in the original Bengali statements filed by the victims and their subsequent translation made by the committee. Pointing out one such alleged ‘gross exaggeration’, the counsel submitted that the committee in the English translated version of a statement had inserted the phrase ‘TMC goon’ which did not find any mention in the original statement recorded, Live Law reported.
Dates not specified in most complaints registered by the NHRC committee
Senior Advocate Soumendra Nath Mookerjee appearing on behalf of the DGP, West Bengal pointed out to the Court that out of the 1979 complaints registered by the NHRC committee, in 864 complaints no date has been mentioned which are nearly 43.65 per cent of the complaints.
What the Union Govt said
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Y.J Dastoor submitted before the Court that the Union was ready to extend the services of central investigating agencies such as the CBI and the NIA pursuant to the directions of the Court. He also contended that such central investigating agencies can be called upon to investigate allegations pertaining to serious offences such as rape, murder as recommended by the NHRC committee. It was also submitted that in case an SIT (Special Investigating Team) is constituted, the Union would be ready to extend the services of some prosecutors as well.
What the petitioners said
Advocate Priyanka Tibrewal submitted before the Court that many people had been displaced owing to the post poll violence and they have still not been able to return which indicates that violence is continuing in the State. She also advocated for the constitution of an SIT to probe the allegations. Similar concerns were advocated by senior counsel Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya and Advocate J. Sai Deepak.