New Delhi: A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team Sunday reached the Kolkata residence of Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee and issued summons to his wife Rujira Naroola in connection with a case of ‘coal theft’ registered on 27 November last year.
“She has been asked to join the probe in the ongoing coal investigation case,” sources in the CBI told ThePrint. The notice mentions her name as “Rujira Banerjee @ Naroola”.
Rujira’s sister Maneka Gambhir has also been summoned, sources told ThePrint.
This is the first time the CBI has summoned someone from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s family — Abhishek is her nephew and a powerful leader in the party, whom the BJP has targeted in political rallies for alleged nepotism. The Diamond Harbour MP has also hit back on several occasions.
The CBI’s move comes two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah was issued summons by the designated MP/MLA court in West Bengal Friday, based on a defamation case filed by Abhishek on 28 August 2018, alleging that Shah made statements against him in Kolkata rally 17 days previously. The court has summoned Shah to appear before it Monday, 22 February.
Soon after the CBI served the summons to Naroola Sunday, the Trinamool Congress issued a statement saying the act was “so predictable”.
“They are so desperate. All BJP allies have left them. So, the only loyal allies are CBI and ED (Enforcement Directorate). We will fight it out. We are not scared. We believe people will give a befitting reply during voting,” the statement read.
Abhishek Banerjee himself tweeted about the matter Sunday afternoon, saying: “We have full faith in the law of the land. However, if they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us, they are mistaken.”
At 2pm today, the CBI served a notice in the name of my wife. We have full faith in the law of the land. However, if they think they can use these ploys to intimidate us, they are mistaken. We are not the ones who would ever be cowed down. pic.twitter.com/U0YB6SC5b8
— Abhishek Banerjee (@abhishekaitc) February 21, 2021
What is the case about?
According to CBI officials, the ‘coal theft’ case pertains to selling of illegally mined and transported coal worth several thousand crores of rupees in the black market by an “organised racket”, which was being run at “a very large scale” over several years.
CBI sources said Naroola will be questioned in connection with some alleged discrepancies in her financial transactions with one of the accused, Anup Lala alias Anup Maji.
This “racket”, the CBI sources claimed, was being run in connivance with Eastern Coalfield Limited officials and security officers, and involved illegal mining of coal from mines on lease from the public sector firm.
The CBI, on 27 November, registered an FIR in Kolkata against members of the ECL, personnel of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), railway officials and some private individuals.
Some of the persons named in the FIR are Amit Kumar Dhar, then-general manager of Kunustoria area for the ECL; Jayesh Chandra Rai, the general manager of the Kajora area; Tanmay Das, the ECL’s chief of security for Asansol, under which Kunustoria falls; Dhananjay Rai, security inspector for Kunustoria; Debashish Mukherjee, security in-charge for the Kajora area in Durgapur, and Anup Maji.
The CBI Friday conducted searches at 13 locations in four districts — Purulia, Bankura, Paschim Bardhaman and Kolkata — in connection with the case. The residences of Vinay Mishra, a Trinamool Congress leader, and businessmen Amit Singh and Niraj Singh were also raided in December.
What’s in the FIR?
According to the FIR, which has been accessed by ThePrint, a joint inspection conducted on several leasehold areas by the Vigilance Department and an ECL task force from May 2020 found evidence of “extensive illegal mining and transportation”.
“It was revealed that illegal excavation and theft of coal is being done by criminal elements from the leasehold areas of ECL in active connivance of the officials of ECL, CISF, Indian Railways and concerned departments,” a CBI official said.
The team seized a lot of machinery that was used for illegally excavating coal, according to the FIR, which also mentioned departmental raids on 7 August 2020 that revealed the “stolen” coal was kept at railway siding areas, including Pandaveswar from where it was recovered.
“Seizure of stolen coal was made from several other railway locations as well. It is learnt that this illegal activity is being run at railway sidings by criminals with active connivance of unknown railway officials,” the FIR said.
The individual named in the FIR, Maji, is described by CBI officials as one of the main organiser for most of the illegal mining activities at the two ECL areas in Paschim Bardhaman district — Topsi village under Kunustoria area and Lachhipur village in Kajora area — and in transportation of illegally excavated and stolen coal.
“He is running these activities in connivance with public servants and those public servants are allowing him to misappropriate the government property. Also, public servants have committed criminal breach of trust of the property entrusted to them,” the FIR said.
‘Will fight this legally and politically’
The Trinamool’s response alleged that the CBI’s action was “vendetta politics”, which would be fought “legally and politically”.
“We have come to know that notice has been served to Rujira Naroola, our MP Abhishek Banerjee’s wife, by the CBI. This is a new strategy they have taken to intimidate family members of political opponents. This is getting ugly now. We will fight it both legally and politically. We will not let them succeed,” Trinamool’s veteran MP Sougata Roy told ThePrint.
Another Trinamool MP and senior advocate Kalyan Banerjee added: “Modi should first answer why his CBI could not finish the trial in the ongoing Sarada case. It is a 14-year-old case and he has been in power for the last seven years. Modi is the worst example of politicising the entire administration and agencies.”
However, BJP’s national general secretary and Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya was quoted by PTI as saying the TMC was trying to politicise the matter.
“If someone has committed any wrong, then the law will take its course. Those who are culprits should be punished. No one should try to politicise the matter,” he said.
(This report was updated after it emerged that Rujira Banerjee nee Naroola’s sister Maneka Gambhir has also been summoned by CBI.)