The CBI and the West Bengal police are heading for a showdown over the central agency serving notices to six senior state police officers in connection with ongoing investigations into multi-crore cattle and coal smuggling cases.
Three officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS), including an inspector general-level official, are among the six summoned by the CBI to appear before it for questioning, said sources in the agency.
Apart from them, the sources added, there are around 100 police officials, mostly officers in charge at various police stations under the scanner in the twin cases that have become politically significant ahead of the ensuing assembly elections in the state.
The CBI, however, is all set to face legal challenges in its move as the police officers have decided to move court questioning the legality of the summon, pointing out that the West Bengal government had in 2018 withdrawn the “general consent” to the central agency to carry out investigations in the state without its prior permission.
For carrying out any raids or investigation in the state, the CBI now needs prior permission from the state government except in those cases where investigations are ordered by the court or are carried out against central government officials.
The CBI also has its counter argument ready — that the investigations in the two cases are primarily initiated against central government officials and hence the prior permission of the state government is not needed to question anyone in connection with the cases.
In support of this argument, the CBI sources said investigations into the cattle smuggling case were being carried out against officials of the Border Security Forces (BSF) and Customs whereas officials of the Eastern Coalfield Limited (ECL) were being investigated in the illegal coal mining and trade case.
The police officials and some politicians of the state have come under the scanner only during the course of the investigations, the sources argued.
Incidentally, the CBI generated heat on the state’s police officials at a time when the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and the BJP has been questioning the neutrality of the force in the state.
A senior BJP leader of the state, Raju Banerjee, even went to the extent of telling a public rally that if the BJP came to power it would make police personnel “lick boots.”
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The Centre and the state government locked horns last month after the home ministry had issued central deputations orders for three IPS officers responsible for the security arrangement of BJP president J P Nadda when his convoy came under attack during a visit to the state last month.
Refusing to release the officials, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in a series of tweets, accused the Centre of trying to demoralise the police forces.
“This act is nothing but a deliberate attempt to encroach upon the State’s jurisdiction & demoralize the serving officers in WB. This move, particularly before the elections is against the basic tenets of the federal structure. It’s unconstitutional & completely unacceptable! (sic),” she had written in one of the tweets.
Just ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, the CBI had issued a similar notice to the then Kolkata Police Commissioner, Rajeev Kumar, in the Saradha chit-fund case, prompting the chief minister to sit on an unprecedented dharna against the central agency’s move.
The CBI spotlights on police officials in connection with the illegal cattle and coal trade are now expected to add a new twist to the Centre-State tussle.
Through these officials, the CBI is trying to reach to some influential politicians allegedly involved in the scams. In connection with the cases, the CBI last month raided Kolkata residences of Vinay Mishra, a youth leader of the Trinamool Congress known to be close to Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of Mamata Banerjee.
Claiming that the cattle smuggling is rampant along India-Bangladesh border, the CBI has already arrested a kingpin of the cattle smuggling racket.
A preliminary enquiry of the CBI reportedly revealed that smuggling of cattle into Bangladesh through the international border in West Bengal had been rampant due to the involvement of BSF and Customs officials.
The CBI is also simultaneously investigating illegal coal mining being carried out in ECL’s leasehold areas in West Burdwan, Purulia and Bankura districts. The CBI reportedly found involvement of senior ECL officials and state police officials with the coal smugglers.