The Supreme Court of India.  (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
The Supreme Court of India. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Centre set to take action against those impeding Saradha probe

  • SC to hear plea against TMC govt for obstructing CBI from questioning Kolkata top cop in chit fund case
  • Major opposition leaders expressed solidarity with Mamata Banerjee, who continues to stage a dharna in Kolkata

NEW DELHI : The Union home ministry will take action against Indian Police Service (IPS) officers “impeding investigations" by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Kolkata, a government official familiar with the development said.

The probe agency on Sunday night allegedly tried to coerce Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar to join the investigation into the Saradha chit fund scam, without a warrant, according to the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government.

This is the latest in a series of confrontations between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power at the centre, and comes against the backdrop of elections to the Lok Sabha that are to take place in April-May of this year. The standoff, which is escalating with neither party ready to back down, reverberated in Parliament on Monday. Trinamool leaders and other opposition members disrupted proceedings, causing both Houses to be adjourned for the day.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a plea by the CBI against the West Bengal government for obstructing its questioning of the Kolkata Police commissioner over the Saradha chit fund scam, while the Calcutta high court will hear the case of the Kolkata Police against the CBI’s actions.

(Graphic: Paras Jain/ Mint)

West Bengal is a pivotal state for the BJP, which currently has just two of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state. With the weakening of the Left parties, the BJP has been hoping to make inroads into the state in the forthcoming elections. Major opposition parties, however, came together and accused the BJP-led centre of acting in an autocratic way.

On Monday evening, opposition leaders N. Chandrababu Naidu, Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal and Farooq Abdullah met in the national capital to discuss the situation prevailing in West Bengal, expressing solidarity with Mamata Banerjee.

The CBI has, on its part, said that it is worried that the state police will “destroy crucial evidence" pertaining to the chit fund scam.

The controversy has prompted the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which usually keeps equal distance from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition, to come out in support of Banerjee. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, also declined to comment on the matter.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman made the centre’s stand clear by saying in New Delhi, “In the interest of wanting free and fair environment in which Lok Sabha elections can be conducted, we have come to bring to the notice of the Election Commission certain happenings in West Bengal which have the complete cooperation of the Trinamool Congress. Instances we highlighted point out that the TMC does not believe in democracy."

The controversy brought Kolkata to a grinding halt on Monday with Banerjee labelling the situation a “total constitutional breakdown". She is staging a dharna at the city’s Metro Cinema at Esplanade. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha also took out a rally on Monday in Darjeeling in support of Banerjee.

“Concerted efforts are being made to throttle the voice of democracy. To oppose the BJP means you are anti-national. Even if we are here, no government work will get hindered and normal course of work will continue," Banerjee said.

The Union home ministry will seek a report on the role of IPS officers over allegations that they obstructed investigation and violation of Service Conduct Rules in Kolkata on Sunday, the senior central government official cited earlier said, on the condition of anonymity.