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CBI has no jurisdiction to probe coal mining case in West Bengal, prime suspect tells SC

West Bengal govt has come out in support of the suspect, submitting that there is no consent for a CBI probe and that the state had withdrawn general consent two years ago.

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New Delhi: The alleged prime suspect in an illegal coal mining case in West Bengal has moved the Supreme Court questioning Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) jurisdiction to register an FIR in the matter and probe it, on the grounds that it cannot investigate an alleged offence without the state government’s permission.

A top court bench of justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah agreed Monday to hear the suspect, coal businessman Anup Majee, but declined to give him protection from arrest or restrain the CBI from taking any coercive steps against him.

Asking the federal agency to file its response to Majee’s appeal, the bench fixed 1 March to hear the case again.

The case pertains to illegal mining and transportation of coal through railways in connivance with officers of the Eastern Coalfield Ltd, Indian Railways, Central Industrial Security Force and some other private persons, including Majee.

The CBI registered an FIR in November 2020 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including criminal breach of trust by public servants and criminal misconduct by public servants by dishonestly or fraudulently misappropriating the property entrusted to them.

On Sunday, the CBI summoned the wife of Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in connection with the case.


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Majee’s plea

In his appeal before the apex court, Majee assailed a Calcutta High Court division bench order this month, which upheld CBI’s powers to probe the case, including conducting raids.

The agency had approached the division bench to set aside a single-judge order of the high court, issued on 3 February that said the agency could investigate the offence since it was reported in the “railway area”, but restrained it from carrying out raids outside the zone earmarked as “railway area”.

The high court order came on Majee’s petition to quash the “illegal FIR”, since it was registered without jurisdiction.

Majee’s contention is that since the Mamata Banerjee government had in November 2018 withdrawn the state government’s 1989 notification, giving general consent to CBI under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE) to investigate cases in the state, the CBI requires the state government’s permission before probing any case.

The allegations in the FIR relate to an alleged offence that is said to have taken place in the “mine areas” that lies within the territorial jurisdiction of the state government and, therefore, beyond the CBI’s investigative powers, he further submitted.


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What Bengal said during the hearing

During the hearing before the top court Monday, West Bengal came out in support of Majee. Its lawyer, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, submitted he was with Majee on the issue of law.

There was no consent for CBI investigation, and the general consent was withdrawn two years ago, Singhvi said.

Majee’s lawyer, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, argued the division bench was not eligible to hear CBI’s appeal, as intra-court appeals are not allowed in a criminal case. This legal position, he said, has been clarified in various judgments of the high court itself.

He argued that the allegations are politically motivated and issues will have to be gone into.

CBI probe devoid of legal sanctity, says Majee

Majee, who is a director of a company called Mark Enclave Private Ltd, claimed he is engaged in the business of sale and purchase of coal from Bharat Coking Coal Ltd, Easter Coalfield Ltd, Central Coalfield Ltd and Sendoz.

According to Majee, the high court order makes him a subject to the rigours of an ongoing investigation which is devoid of any legal sanctity.

Under the FIR, the allegations pertain to illegal mining and theft of coal from the mining areas of Eastern Coalfield Ltd leasehold area situated in Kunustoria Kajora Area, District West Burdwan and corresponding Railway Sidings, he said.

The allegations relate to coal mining in areas which are beyond railway areas and therefore, also, the conduct of investigation by the CBI, he added.

He asserted that a “railway area” will be considered as part of the state territory. There is no notification or an order extending the application of the DSPE to the railway areas.

Therefore, the CBI cannot be given unbridled and unlimited powers to investigate cases where no territorial jurisdiction is defined, Majee’s appeal added.

“As such, once it is established that the primary offence is alleged to be committed within the state of West Bengal, the CBI cannot use a fringe element of the said offence, namely, that said illegally excavated coal is transported from West Bengal to other parts of the country, as a benchmark to usurp jurisdiction and its rights to investigation into the offence,” read Majee’s appeal.

The definition of railways under the Railway Act must be considered as a reference point for ascertaining the area covered by the railways. By virtue of enactment of the Railway Protection Force (RPF), it will be the RPF which will be the appropriate authority to investigate any matter of theft, pilferage of goods consigned to the railways, Majee added.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Such loot has been going on for the last five decades in Bengal. Everyone is well aware of it. Also, everyone has a share. Hence, the state govt as well as other parties are eager to stop the CBI probe into the scam.

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