Who is in the wrong, CBI or Bengal government?

While the Supreme Court is seized of the matter, legal experts and former officials throw some light on the huge controversy.

Published: 05th February 2019 09:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th February 2019 12:10 PM   |  A+A-

Mamata Banerjee VS CBI  (Photo | PTI)

On 3rd February 2019 evening, a 'surprise visit' by CBI officials to the Kolkata police chief’s residence sparked a face-off between the state police and the central agency. (On the right, CBI officials are seen being forcibly taken to a police station./ PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: While politics has upstaged the Central Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to examine Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the CBI exceeded its brief or if the West Bengal government hampered a court-ordered probe into the scam. While the Supreme Court is seized of the matter, legal experts and former officials throw some light on the huge controversy.

Did the CBI follow procedure when it went to Kumar’s residence on Sunday to examine him?
While the Kolkata Police has claimed that Kumar was not intimated before reaching his residence, according to former CBI interim director M Nageswara Rao, under whose command the action was taken, the agency does not need any permission under Section 156 (1) of Criminal Procedure Code. The provision states, “Any officer in charge of a police station may, without the order of a magistrate, investigate any cognizable case which a court having jurisdiction over the local area within the limits of such station would have power to inquire into or try under the provisions of Chapter XIII.”

Then on what grounds did the Kolkata Police detain the CBI officials?
According to legal experts, the CBI’s action is in violation of Calcutta High Court orders passed on December 6 and 18, 2018, which put a stay on summons issued to three other witnesses in the Saradha case till the next hearing on February 13. By virtue of these high court orders, Kumar, who is also only a witness, enjoys protection from the CBI summons, according to Abhishek Singhvi, the West Bengal government counsel. Law and order is a state subject and the West Bengal government is within its right to detain individuals to prevent a situation from going out of hand.

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But the CBI is arguing that it was only acting upon the Supreme Court’s order, which directed the agency to probe the Saradha chit fund scam, and stopping them is contempt of court? Does this hold water?
Yes, the CBI is only probing the scam on the directions of the court. The case was handed over to the CBI in 2014, prior to this it was being investigated by an SIT of the Bengal Police, of which Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar was a member. But the probe is not being monitored by the apex court as claimed by many. According to former CBI joint director S Sen, “Politicians may like to use the CBI but agencies shouldn’t allow themselves to be used. The only solution to cases like these is it should be put before the special CBI court where FIR has been filed.”

In November 2018, the West Bengal government had revoked ‘general consent’ to the CBI to take any action in the State. Did the CBI violate this order?
There does not seem to be any clarity on this. While the apex court ordered the CBI probe in 2014, the West Bengal government order came only in November 2018 so on the face of it the CBI was within its right to take action against Kumar. But in Kumar’s defence, Singhvi told the Supreme Court on Monday that the Kolkata Police chief is only a witness and not an accused in the case and cannot be coerced to give a statement.

What is the Saradha chit fund scam?
An umbrella company, the Saradha Group, with 200 private players allegedly cheated more than a million investors by running ponzi schemes. The scam, which came to light in April 2013, was worth over Rs 10,000 crore. The state government subsequently set up a Rs 500 crore relief fund for small investors, who had invested in the scheme, to prevent them from going bankrupt. On April 23, 2013, the company’s chairman and MD Sudipta Sen, along with Debjani Mukherjee and Arvind Singh Chauhan, were arrested from Kashmir. SEBI asked the Saradha Group to immediately stop raising any further capital and return all deposits within three months.

Who are the bigwigs involved?
Some of the bigwigs allegedly involved in the case are former West Bengal Transport Minister Madan Mitra, former Rajya Sabha MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose, BJP leader Mukul Roy, Trinamool leader Rajat Majumder, Congress leader Matang Sinh and former Union minister P Chidambaram’s wife Nalini.

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