New Delhi/Kolkata: In what is likely to be a big blow to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday withdrew its protection order given to former Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in relation to the Saradha scam case.
The development comes at a time when campaigning for Lok Sabha elections have ended in the state and nine parliamentary constituencies are set to go to polls on Sunday. The incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the state has locked horns with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in an aggressive electoral campaign.
On Friday, the bench of the apex court comprising justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna gave seven days for lifting the protection order. They also directed the CBI to act in "accordance with law"and not assume that they had given permission for custodial interrogation.
The court also gave Rajeev Kumar liberty to to approach the lower court to apply for bail and pursue his other legal rights within the next seven days.
The order passed today was in relation to the application filed by the CBI on 5 April, which said a custodial interrogation was essential to, “unravel the entire gamut of larger conspiracy in these ponzi scam cases and its subsequent investigation." They also alleged that Rajeev Kumar was involved in the tampering of evidence and was not cooperating with the CBI in their probe.
The order could be seen as a blow to Banerjee because Kumar was seen as her close aide. Banerjee — who had staged a protest following the CBI’s bid to quiz Kumar who was subsequently removed from the top post — has been attacking the BJP in all her rallies, maintained a studied silence on the matter.
She has made corruption a key issue against BJP, often repeating the “Chowkidaar Chor Hai" jibe. The BJP instead has accused Banerjee of misusing state administration to impede governance, often using the slogan “Speedbreaker Didi".
While the top court’s decision dealt a blow to Banerjee’s anti-corruption narrative, the party dissociated itself from the matter.
When contacted, a Trinamool Congress spokesperson stated that they “knew nothing about it. The Supreme Court has taken a decision and we can’t say anything."
The Supreme Court, in its order passed on 5 February, gave Kumar protection against arrest. The order stated that "no coercive action" would be taken against Rajeev Kumar. Rajeev Kumar was directed to cooperate with the CBI in the probe.
On the night of 3 February, in a face-off between the probe agency and the Kolkata Police, a tussle broke out between the two forces in Kolkata, wherein a team of CBI officials was detained by the Kolkata Police after it arrived at the residence of the then Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar at Loudon Street to question him in connection with the Saradha chit fund case.
The move by the state police followed speculation that Rajiv Kumar would be summoned for interrogation in relation with the fund scam cases, including the Saradha case. However, the team of CBI officials was stopped by a Kolkata Police unit.