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Sandeshkhali: Calcutta HC asks West Bengal to hand over ED attack and Shajahan Sheikh cases to CBI; calls state police 'totally biased'

The CBI has approached West Bengal Police to take over the investigation into the case. An agency team also reached the CID office in Kolkata with paramilitary forces to take custody of Sheikh.
Last Updated 05 March 2024, 10:09 IST

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday ordered the transfer of the police probe into an attack on Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials at Sandeshkhali on January 5 from the West Bengal Police to the CBI.

The court also directed that the custody of TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh, who was arrested by the West Bengal police on February 29 in connection with the attack, be handed over to the central agency.

It slammed the West Bengal Police for "totally biased" conduct and said every attempt is being made to delay the probe to "protect" the accused.

Within hours of the HC acceding to the Enforcement Directorate's request, the West Bengal government moved the Supreme Court challenging the order but an apex court bench refused an urgent listing of the plea and asked its counsel to mention the matter before the Registrar General.

The CBI, meanwhile, approached West Bengal Police to take over the investigation into the case. An agency team also reached the CID office in Kolkata with paramilitary forces to take custody of Sheikh.

A team of ED officials was attacked by a nearly 1,000-strong mob on January 5 when they went to raid the house of Sheikh, who allegedly has close links with arrested former state food minister Jyoti Priya Mallick, in connection with the multi-crore ration distribution scam in West Bengal.

"There can be no better case than the case on hand which requires to be transferred to be investigated by CBI," a high court division bench headed by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam ruled and directed that the directions be complied with by 4.30 pm on Tuesday.

Both the ED and the West Bengal government had moved separate appeals challenging a single bench's January 17 order to form a joint special investigation team (SIT) of the CBI and the state police to probe the mob attack on the ED officials.

While the ED wanted the probe to be transferred to the CBI only, the state prayed that the investigation be allowed to be done by the state police.

Sheikh, who is also the prime accused in alleged sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing at Sandeshkhali, was arrested by the state police on February 29 in the ED officials attack case.

The ED had contended before the court that the state police purposely arrested Sheikh in the case of the attack on ED officials, even though more than 40 other cases have been pending against him for years, to deny the CBI the custody of Sheikh if the case is handed over to the central agency.

The division bench had earlier stayed a single bench order constituting the SIT and restrained the West Bengal police from proceeding with the investigation in the cases registered by them in connection with the attack on ED officials.

The bench said that despite such an order, the case stood transferred to the state CID and they issued notices to the ED officials.

"Thus, this act of the state police would be sufficient to hold that the state police are totally biased and every attempt is being made to delay the investigation in order to protect the accused who has been absconding for more than 50 days," the bench observed.

The court noted that the then-absconding accused is stated to be a "strong man" in the locality and has very powerful connections in the ruling party apart from having been elected on a TMC ticket as a Karmadhaksya of the North 24 Parganas Zilla Parishad.

The bench observed that the state police had played a "hide and seek" to shield the accused who "undoubtedly is a highly politically influential person who has demonstrably shown that he is and would be in a position to influence the investigation if allowed to rest with the state police."

The court noted that the case which has been registered by ED in its investigation into the alleged ration distribution scam involves highly politically powerful persons which include the accused Sheikh.

In the Supreme Court, the matter was mentioned before a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta by senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the West Bengal government, seeking an urgent hearing.

The bench refused an urgent listing of the plea and asked Singhvi to mention the matter before the Registrar General of the top court.

The BJP, which has been accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of protecting Sheikh, lauded the Calcutta High Court order and said its stand had been vindicated.

"Satyamev Jayate" (truth alone triumphs)," BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla said and also cited the court's critical observations on the state police to assert that the Trinamool Congress tried to shield Sheikh while police acted as a wing of the state's ruling party.

TMC leaders, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, initially defended Sheikh and when complaints against him mounted, a sham of his arrest and removal from the party was orchestrated, he alleged.

Sheikh, also facing charges of land grab and sexual assault on women in Sandeshkhali, was under "secular protection" all this while, the BJP spokesperson said, asserting that the court has struck a hammer to such a mindset.

Meanwhile, National Commission for Women chairperson Rekha Sharma met President Droupadi Murmu on Tuesday and recommended imposition of President's rule in West Bengal over the alleged atrocities on women and violence in Sandeshkhali.

An NCW team recently visited West Bengal's Sandeshkhali to assess the situation there and review actions taken by the local authorities in response to reports of egregious violence and intimidation against women in the region.

A fact-finding report was also prepared by the commission which said that it has gathered disturbing testimonies of women alleging widespread fear and systematic abuse by both police officers and members of the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Previously, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) had also recommended President rule in the TMC-ruled state.

"Sandeshkhali is not an isolated incident. Previously also many incidents of violence have been reported in the state and no action has been taken by the state government. Hence, NCW recommended to President Droupadi Murmu to impose President's rule in the state," she said.

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(Published 05 March 2024, 10:09 IST)

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