Sandeshkhali violence | ‘Highly shameful’ even if only 1% of claims true: Calcutta High Court to Bengal govt.

In High Court, the West Bengal Government questions conviction rate of Central agencies; ED accuses State of non-cooperation

Updated - April 05, 2024 03:57 am IST

Published - April 04, 2024 05:34 pm IST - Kolkata

Women stage a protest demanding the arrest of local TMC leaders over Sandeshkhali incident allegations, in North 24 Parganas district, on February 25, 2024.

Women stage a protest demanding the arrest of local TMC leaders over Sandeshkhali incident allegations, in North 24 Parganas district, on February 25, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Observing that it would be “highly shameful” if even one percent of the allegations of sexual assault in Sandeshkhali were found to be true, the Calcutta High Court on April 4 said that West Bengal’s image as the safest State for women will fall.

Petitioner-lawyer Priyanka Tibrewal submitted a voluminous compilation before the court which she said contained around 100 affidavits of alleged victims of sexual assault, apart from those of land grabbing and violence.

“If at least one percent (of the allegations) is true, it is highly shameful,” a division bench presided by Chief Justice T.S. Sivagnanam said.

The division bench was hearing a suo motu motion on alleged sexual assault and land grabbing at Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district and petitions seeking transfer of investigation of these cases to the CBI.

Also Read | Mamata handled Sandeshkhali developments ‘incredibly well’, says Saayoni Ghosh

Opposing the prayers for transfer of investigation, West Bengal’s Advocate General Kishore Dutta claimed before the division bench that Central agencies have lost the trust posed in them.

He questioned the conviction rate of Central agencies in cases they were probing in the State, while the Enforcement Directorate’s counsel accused it of non-cooperation in taking forward investigations.

Maintaining that it is shameful if even one of the affidavits is correct, the Chief Justice said, “The entire district administration and the ruling dispensation have to owe moral responsibility, 100% responsibility.” He said that West Bengal boasts of a statistics report to be the safest State for women.

“As per the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) report, West Bengal stands number one for safety of women; and if one affidavit filed by Tibrewal is proved to be right, the statistics falls, the public image falls, the opinion falls,” he said.

“If it falls and crumbles, you cannot resurrect it,” he said.

Also read: Sandeshkhali violence: Fire and smoke in a West Bengal village 

The court said that the world does not become dark if one closes his or her eyes.

Petitioner-lawyer Tibrewal, who prayed for transfer of investigation to the CBI, placed before the division bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya a number of complaints by alleged victims.

Stating that she had gone to Sandeshkhali on three weekends along with other lawyers and notaries to record the affidavits, Ms. Tibrewal claimed that the voluminous files contained around 100 complaints by women alleging sexual assault, apart from several of alleged land grabbing and other instances of violence and destruction of property.

She also prayed for constitution of a committee by the court to look into the complaints and payment of compensation to the victims.

Explained: What led to the violence in Sandeshkhali?

The division Bench had on March 7 granted permission to Ms. Tibrewal, who claimed to represent the victim women, to file an application/supplementary affidavit bringing on record whatever the alleged victims wish to place before this court.

A report of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was also filed by another petitioner-advocate Susmita Saha Dutta, who stated that she had visited Sandeshkhali on NCST’s invitation along with its members, before the court.

After hearing the submissions of advocates on various prayers on Thursday, the division bench reserved judgment on the petitions.

Accusing the state of non-cooperation, the central government’s Deputy Solicitor General Dhiraj Trivedi, representing the ED in this matter, asked how the central agencies could take forward the investigations in such a situation.

He submitted that the high court has ordered investigations by Central agencies in several cases in the State, including the violence following the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, as the local police have been found wanting.

The State's Advocate General submitted that if required, a PIL can be instituted at the instance of the court as to how many CBI investigations were ordered by it in the last 10 years, and what are the results of those and what is the fate of the trials.

He wondered about the conviction rate of the Central probe agencies, like the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

Claiming that the court must be convinced that the people approaching it have no personal interest in the matter, Mr. Dutta asked what research was made by the persons who have come before the court on the Sandeshkhali issue.

The AG stated that prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC are not in force anywhere in Sandeshkhali and things are under control.

He prayed that the State police be allowed to investigate the complaints which have come forth.

On the question raised by the AG as to why the alleged victim women did not come up with their complaints earlier, Ms. Tibrewal said it happens when general people cannot take atrocities anymore.

She claimed to have moved a PIL before the high court in June 2017 over the alleged rape and murder of a 68-year-old woman in Sandeshkhali.

Another petitioner-lawyer Alakh Alok Srivastava, who also sought transfer of probe of the sexual assault and land grabbing cases in Sandehkhali to the CBI, submitted that when there are allegations of bias against the local police by the alleged victims, this is a fit case for transfer to CBI.

Advocate Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, the amicus curiae appointed by the court in the matter, has already filed a report before it on the allegations of sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing of villagers.

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