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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

What’s behind the West Bengal govt, CBI face-off

  • CBI has moved the Supreme Court against the West Bengal government for detaining its officers as they tried to question a Kolkata top cop in the Saradha scam
  • Mint analyses CBI’s actions and the state government’s retaliation

Why did CBI move the Supreme Court?

Kolkata Police on Sunday detained CBI officials, who had arrived at Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s home to quiz him in connection with the Saradha chit fund case. CBI moved the top court alleging “non-cooperation" by the West Bengal government and for impeding its probe into the case. It sought the court’s direction against the state government. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said these were “extraordinary circumstances" and that Kumar should surrender. He added that there was a possibility of evidence being tampered with. The court gave him 24 hours to submit evidence substantiating his claims.

What’s the issue here?

The issue is whether CBI needed to take the West Bengal government’s permission before launching its operation. In normal circumstances, police and public order are state subjects. But in this case, the probe was handed over by the top court to CBI, a central agency under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. The state government withdrew general authorization to CBI in November, which may mean it was expected to take the state’s permission, as this is required on a case-to-case basis. Criminal lawyer Ashish Dixit says section 6 of the Act that requires CBI to take the state’s consent doesn’t apply as the top court had ordered the probe.

What is the Saradha chit fund scam about?

Several firms under the now-defunct Saradha Group floated schemes to raise money from the public promising high returns. The scam surfaced when it defaulted on repaying investors.

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Can CBI proceed without a warrant?

The second question is whether CBI’s action in trying to question Kumar was mala fide for the lack of a warrant. The state government may rely on this once it comes up in court. CBI had issued a notice under section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), against which the state government moved the Calcutta high court. The high court stayed the notice. CBI may need to prove its case falls under section 165 of CrPC, which lays down conditions under which a probe officer can proceed without a warrant.

What did the top court say in its 2014 ruling?

On 9 May 2014, the Supreme Court ordered CBI to investigate the operations of deposit-taking firms in West Bengal and Odisha, including the Saradha Group, and asked the state government to extend cooperation. A bench comprising Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice C. Nagappan had turned to the investigative agency, citing the inability of the West Bengal police to trace the money and the possible involvement of several politicians and other influential people in the chit fund case.

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