Unedifying episode: On Kolkata stand-off

In its ostensibly even-handed intervention in the stand-off between the Central and West Bengal governments over the manner of investigation of the Saradha Chit Fund case, the Supreme Court has de-escalated political tensions, at least for now. The decision allowed both sides in the face-off to claim “moral victory” — even if it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who was forced to climb down from the aggressive posture she took in denying the Central Bureau of Investigation room to question Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar. However, while ordering him to cooperate with the CBI in “neutral” Shillong, the Court restrained the CBI from taking any coercive action against Mr. Kumar. The Police Commissioner and his Special Investigation Team investigating the chit fund case had been served a number of notices to appear before the CBI before it sent a team to his house in Kolkata. While Ms. Banerjee may have reason to believe that the timing of the CBI’s operation was politically motivated, her government’s response — manhandling and detaining the CBI officials — was shocking and inexcusable. In the polarised political atmosphere, her belligerence expectedly secured the backing of a large number of Opposition parties, and even had the Congress rally around her during an impromptu sit-in protest. However, in attempting to obstruct the CBI action in a court-ordered investigation, Ms. Banerjee once again demonstrated that she is prone to taking arguments over administrative procedures to the streets. A decade ago, she burnished her credentials as the Opposition leader who would dethrone the Left Front combine in West Bengal with her agitation over the Singur land acquisition. But her attempt now to bring the State, where she heads the government, to a grinding halt speaks poorly of her political maturity. Ms. Banerjee is free to read political motives into the actions of a Central agency — but she must conduct that fight politically and by heeding her responsibilities as a Chief Minister. To hold a dharna in aid of an officer who is required for questioning does her no credit.

There are bound to be questions whether this matter should have been escalated to such an unpleasant level. The CBI says there was no proper response to the earlier summonses it sent to the Police Commissioner, and alleges that he could have destroyed evidence that was initially gathered by the Special Investigation Team that he had supervised in the initial stage of the probe. But it is doubtful whether descending on a senior officer’s residence on a Sunday evening with a large team of officers was the right course of action for the CBI, as it was liable to be interpreted as a high-handed attempt to browbeat and embarrass the State government. The only way the CBI can escape this impression is by showing that it was justified in demanding the questioning of Mr. Kumar and establishing proof of its suspicions about his role in covering up the scam.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 9:57:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/unedifying-episode/article26187158.ece

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