Saradha scam: SC withdraws protection from arrest granted to ex-Kolkata CP Rajeev Kumar

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NEW DELHI, May 17 (AGENCIES): The Supreme Court Friday withdrew protection from arrest given to former Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam, in which the CBI wanted to interrogate him in custody. The top court also expressed concern over the confrontation between the CBI and the West Bengal Police in the case, saying that “at the receiving end are silently waiting lakhs of small town and rural investors who have been deprived and looted of their savings”.

It said however that its February 5 order granting protection from arrest to Kumar would continue for another seven days from Friday to enable him to approach the competent court for relief. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna left it open to the Central Bureau of Investigation to act in accordance with the law.

“Therefore, in the given facts, we would withdraw the protection given to Rajeev Kumar, former Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, vide our order dated February 5, 2019 restraining the CBI from arresting him and thereby, leave it open to the CBI to act in accordance with the law,” the bench said.

“At the same time, we direct that the interim order dated February 5, 2019 would continue for a period of seven days from the date of pronouncement of this order to enable Rajeev Kumar to approach competent Court for relief, if so advised,” said Justice Khanna, who pronounced the eight-page verdict.

The bench, which was dealing with an application of CBI seeking to vacate the February 5 order, clarified that contentions and reasons raised in the probe agency’s application would not be grounds to accept or reject the request of custodial interrogation or grant of protection, if any such petition is moved. It disposed of the application in pursuant to the directions and said that the CBI’s petition seeking contempt action against Kumar for creating hurdles in the investigation of Saradha chit fund case would be taken up in the due course.

Taking serious note of “confrontation and clash” between the CBI and state police, the bench said, “With regret, we acknowledge and accept that despite orders and words of advice, antagonism and acrimony has escalated and not ebbed as is evident from the pleading and arguments addressed before us”.

It said due to limited controversy in CBI’s application for vacating of February 5 direction, it was not referring to the earlier orders but “express our disappointment and dismay seeing the CBI and the West Bengal State Police Force (WBSPF) pitted and casting aspersions against each other and being embroiled in this feud”. The bench said the situation is grim as both sides  have hardened their stand and there was no administrative mechanism in place to avoid and resolve such conflicts between the two wings of the police force in the country.

“They (CBI and Police) have forgotten that the primary purpose and role of the police is to investigate crime, collect evidence and prosecute the offenders…At the receiving end are silently waiting lakhs of small town and rural investors who have been deprived and looted of their savings”, the bench said.

It noted that CBI had issued three notices on October 18 and 23 of 2017, and on December 8, 2018 asking Rajeev Kumar to appear and join investigation, but he had not respond.

“Compelled, the CBI alleges their officers had made a bona fide visit to Rajeev Kumar’s residence on February 3, but were prevented from entering and interrogating Rajeev Kumar by the WBSPF, who in retaliation had laid a seige around the CBI Office at Kolkata,” it noted. The court also noted that West Bengal government and Kumar have alleged “political vendetta” and have made allegations against M Nageswara Rao, former interim CBI director.

Earlier, Kumar in an affidavit before the court had alleged that he was targeted by CBI in the chit fund case due to “mala fide intent” and “conflict of interest” of Rao as his family members were under the scanner post-demonetisation. The Election Commission on Wednesday had ordered the removal of Kumar, who was posted as Additional Director General, CID, in West Bengal for allegedly failing to control incidents of violence in the state and had asked him to report to the Union Home Ministry on Thursday.

Kumar was removed along with West Bengal’s Principal Secretary (Home) Atri Bhattacharya after parts of Kolkata witnessed widespread violence during BJP president Amit Shah’s massive road show in the city. In its order, the court said that CBI had alleged non-cooperation and charges WB state police with “obfuscating the investigation by causing impediments and roadblocks with a view to protect big names and members/leaders of the ruling party in the State of West Bengal”.

The court noted the CBI’s claim of having substantial material implicating Rajeev Kumar, the then Commissioner, Bidhannagar Commissionerate, of connivance and complicity with the principal accused. The CBI had told the apex court that it wanted custodial interrogation of Kumar as there was prima facie evidence that he was allegedly trying to destroy or tamper with evidence and “shield high and mighty” in the case. The apex court, on February 5, had granted protection from arrest to Kumar while directing him to appear before the CBI and “faithfully” cooperate into the investigation of cases arising out of the scam.

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