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In Bengal, cops & central agencies play chor-police, trade FIRs — ‘pawns in politics’

State police and central agencies have traded FIRs on murder, criminal conspiracy, and more in last few weeks. Experts blame ‘political control’, warn it’s weakening the steel frame.

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New Delhi: Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for enhanced cooperation between state police and central agencies. Whether or not they get the memo remains to be seen. As it stands now, police versus police battles have been erupting regularly across states, all with a political tinge. And in West Bengal, it’s become an all-out war of late, with the state police and central agencies filing cases against each other almost every other fortnight.

The latest instance of this was on 18 January, when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against “unknown officials” of the Kolkata police over a “false” case of bribery, among other things. This case has long and complex political antecedents in the office-of-profit allegations against Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren last year, but more on it later.

Another recent khaki versus khaki showdown in West Bengal saw the state police’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) slap a case of murder and extortion against seven CBI officers on 14 December.

This was in connection with the controversial 12 December custodial death of Lalan Sheikh, a prime accused in the bombing murder of Trinamool Congress leader Bhadu Sheikh last March, and the arson deaths of several others in Birbhum during mob violence shortly thereafter.

On its part, the CBI told the Calcutta High Court that two of the accused officers named in the FIR had arrested Trinamool’s Birbhum president Anubrata Mondal in an alleged cattle smuggling scam. “An attempt is being made to mix the cases and reap benefits,” the CBI had said.

In between these two cases, the Gujarat police, assisted by Delhi cops, arrested Trinamool spokesperson Saket Gokhale from the Bengal government’s guest house, New Banga Bhawan, in the national capital on 29 December.

The reason for this arrest was that Gokhale had allegedly misused funds collected via crowdfunding. The Gujarat police had also arrested him twice earlier last month for allegedly “disseminating fake news” about the cost of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Morbi after the October 2022 bridge collapse.

ED arrests TMC's Saket Gokhale from Gujarat jail in money laundering case
TMC spokesperson Saket Gokhale with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (Photo: Twitter/Saket Gokhale)

Gokhale’s latest arrest is still generating controversy. Last week, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that the Gujarat police returned to the guest house on 14 January and “illegally” seized six hard disks containing CCTV footage.

“Who all stay in New Banga Bhawan? I stay there sometimes, the state’s governor stays there, the chief justice and other important government functionaries stay there. What do they want to see? They want to see who all are coming there to meet these important people. And that is why they took all the CCTV hard disks. This is against democracy and bulldozer politics. They will get a closure soon,” she said at a public meeting in Murshidabad.

A senior officer of the Kolkata Police told ThePrint that a team from Bengal had been sent to Delhi to look into the seizure of disks, but no complaint has been registered in this regard “as of now”.

These are just the latest examples. Over the last five years, there have been at least 17 cases and counter-cases filed between the state police in Bengal and central agencies.

Serving and retired police officers ThePrint spoke to said that this kind of infighting was “politically motivated” and a “menace” and that cops were often reduced to pawns.

“Agencies are under the control of the ruling parties at the Centre, while state police organisations are at the mercy of the regional party in power in the state. There are clashes between them and they use the IPS cadre the most to their advantage. The senior officers cannot do anything about it as they need to comply with the order of the government,” said retired IPS officer P K Hormis Tharakan, an ex-director general of police (DGP) who retired as the R&AW chief.

Also read: ‘Fabrication of court order’: ED files FIR against Kolkata Police, Centre-Bengal battle escalates

‘All politically motivated’

Several senior police officers described the latest slew of cases and counter-cases in West Bengal as “political”, bringing into question the non-partisanship of central agencies as well as state police forces.

In the latest 18 January case, the CBI accused “unknown officials of the Kolkata police” and businessman Amit Kumar Agarwal of criminal conspiracy and for “scandalising” the judiciary and Enforcement Directorate officers, amongst others.

For a brief background: Agarwal had lodged a bribery complaint last July at Kolkata’s Hare police station against one Shiv Shankar Sharma and his associate Rajeev Kumar, a Ranchi-based lawyer. Agarwal had alleged that Sharma had sought a bribe to drop a public interest litigation (PIL) he had filed in the Jharkhand High Court.

This was no ordinary PIL. Sharma was the petitioner in two PILs that had sought a CBI and ED investigation against Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren for allegedly laundering money and giving himself a mining lease — an issue over which the state BJP had demanded his disqualification as MLA. The petition had also accused businessman Agarwal of helping Soren launder money.

While the Jharkhand HC had held that Sharma’s petition was admissible, the SC in November dismissed the PILs against Soren, noting they contained only “half-baked” allegations, and were made by “a person who… has come to court with unclean hands”.

The CBI’s complaint came on the back of an enquiry ordered by the Jharkhand HC. However, the FIR, which ThePrint has seen, does not explicitly mention any active wrongdoing on the part of the Kolkata police.

The senior officer of Kolkata police quoted earlier claimed that the complaint against the cops did not hold any water.

“If one reads the recent FIR against us by the CBI, no allegation against Kolkata police will be found. The case is against a Kolkata-based businessman. He lodged an FIR with one of our police stations. The police station acted on it and arrested an advocate from Ranchi.”

He added: “The CBI is trying to implicate Kolkata police for being complicit in the crime of trapping the advocate… But there is no prima facie evidence. This looks like a retaliatory case against us after the state CID booked CBI officers in a different case,” he added.

Here he was referring to the Lalan Sheikh custodial death case over which the Bengal CID filed an FIR against CBI officers.

Ironically, no direct accusation of wrongdoing against the CBI was detailed in this instance either. Subsequently, the Calcutta High Court in December barred the CID from taking any coercive action against the CBI officers in the case.

Representative image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with police officers | ANI

Talking to The Print, a senior CBI officer of inspector general (IG) rank said that such instances were not new.

“The Kolkata police and Howrah district police of West Bengal filed at least five cases against our joint directors when they were in charge of the chit fund probe, and coal and cattle smuggling probe,” he said. “The cases are still on.”

He claimed that such cases were driven only by politics and the officers were well aware of this. “Both the forces know that the cases will have no closure, because there is nothing to investigate. They will just keep summoning each other to flex muscle. These are all politically motivated cases.”

Troubling trend

In recent years, there have been many instances of police agencies facing off against each other —  a prominent example being the FIR for “abduction” filed by Delhi police against Punjab police for arresting BJP leader Tajinder Bagga last May. However, a disproportionate number of such controversies have had a West Bengal connection.

The ongoing series of such cases and counter cases started in 2017, when Rajeev Kumar, ex-commissioner of Kolkata Police, was first called by the CBI for questioning in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam.

The Kolkata police and Howrah district police then lodged different cases against Pankaj Srivastav, then joint director of CBI, who was in charge of the investigation.

Since then, at least 10 sets of summons or notices went to senior IPS officers of the West Bengal police in different cases, including the “coal smuggling” case and the so-called cattle smuggling racket.

The Kolkata police have also sent notices to ED officers, including some of joint director rank, in connection with defamation cases lodged by Trinamool national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.

‘Failure of home ministry’

The politically charged confrontations between the police forces is damaging the all-India civil services, often described as the steel frame of the country, said Prithviraj Chavan, who was minister in the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dispensation.

Speaking to ThePrint, Chavan said he held the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) responsible for the situation.

“This rivalry between state police organisations and central police agencies singularly signals the failure of the highest authority, and that is the MHA,” he said.

“There is an annual conference of DGs, where the Prime Minister and the Union home minister are present. These kinds of conferences were designed to avoid confrontation and increase coordination. But under the current dispensation, just the opposite happens,” he added.

“The central government has so many police agencies and around eight to 10 paramilitary forces. We often see how the officers are taken over by jealousy and vindictiveness.”

Home Minister Amit Shah | File photo: PTI
File photo of Home Minister Amit Shah | PTI

Chavan further said that the current trend of giving multiple extensions to IPS and IAS officers, and giving them post-retirement plum postings as a reward for their loyalty had taken a toll on the system.

“The extensions and redeployments of officers encourage them to align themselves with political authorities and go beyond the call of duty. Everyone wants to be on the right side of the government, the Centre or in the states,” said Chavan.

Retired IPS officer P K Hormis Tharakan, quoted earlier, said there was a dire need for police reforms.

“The National Police Commission (appointed in 1977) suggested taking the police out of political control. The report was never implemented. It suggested that state police chiefs and the heads of central agencies need to be selected by an independent committee, which may have the PM and the CM (in case of state government), the Opposition leader, and the representation of the judiciary,” he said.

“Until and unless the police become free of political control, these kinds of things will keep happening and it will get even murkier. This affects the morale of the senior officers and the force as a whole,” he added.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also read: In 8 months, one DGP has juggled CRPF, BSF, SSB, ITBP. For others, there’s no work




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