19 May 2023 1:55 PM GMT
In a strongly worded order, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday said that TMC leader and MP Abhishek Banerjee is trying tooth and nail to oppose an investigation in the West Bengal School Job Scam case, despite the fact that being in the top rung of the ruling political party, he ought not to shy away from the investigation process.The bench of Justice Amrita Sinha observed that the...
In a strongly worded order, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday said that TMC leader and MP Abhishek Banerjee is trying tooth and nail to oppose an investigation in the West Bengal School Job Scam case, despite the fact that being in the top rung of the ruling political party, he ought not to shy away from the investigation process.
The bench of Justice Amrita Sinha observed that the proper approach for him should be to put himself to the test and come out clean instead of avoiding or running away from the entire process. The State machinery, especially the police, also appears to back the accused, the Court added.
#JustIN | "Abhishek Banerjee being in the top rung of the ruling political party ought not to shy away from the investigation process in WB Job Scam Case...He is trying tooth and nail to oppose such an investigation...The State machinery also backing him", says #CalcuttaHC. pic.twitter.com/hkup1KZc5f— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) May 19, 2023
#JustIN | "Abhishek Banerjee being in the top rung of the ruling political party ought not to shy away from the investigation process in WB Job Scam Case...He is trying tooth and nail to oppose such an investigation...The State machinery also backing him", says #CalcuttaHC. pic.twitter.com/hkup1KZc5f
The bench observed thus while dismissing Banerjee's plea to recall the order passed by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay on April 13 giving liberty to the CBI and ED to interrogate Kuntal Ghosh, an accused in the case, as well as Banerjee.
recall HC's April 13 order permitting CBI and ED to interrogate him in connection with the Teacher Recruitment Scam case. Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 25 Lakh on him.
With this, the court also dismissed a plea moved by Kuntal Ghosh, an accused in the scam who has already been arrested, who had complained that ED officers had been torturing and pressuring him to implicate Banerjee in the scam. He has also been fined Rs. 25 Lakh.
Noting that the applicants (Ghosh and Banerjee) are trying to delay the entire process to the extent possible so that the real culprits can remain shielded, the bench, strennly remarks thus:
"The act of the applicants in pressing the instant applications raises doubt in the mind of the Court that the same have been filed with mala fide intention to deter the investigating officers to follow through the process of investigation which has already opened up a box of worms with more to follow suit. The idea is to delay the entire process to the extent possible so that the real culprits can remain shielded. In fact, on account of filing the applications neither the ED nor the CBI appear to have proceeded any further. The notice under 160 CrPC issued in favour of (Banerjee) is yet to be acted upon even though there is no order restraining the investigating authority to proceed with the same. The applicants have indeed been successful in interrupting the investigation to a great extent. It is high time that the investigation process be brought back to the right track and proceeded in the right earnest so that the same reaches its logical conclusion at the earliest"
Against this backdrop, the Court stressed that if the trend to delay the main investigation and intimidate the investigating officers is not dealt with appropriately at the very first stage, then the same will develop as a style and very many investigations in future may be held up for the same reasons.
"Such a move must be stubbed with an iron hand and upon imposition of exemplary costs so that the same has a deterring effect and similar offenders will be compelled to think multiple times before adopting such a stand," the Court added.
Importantly, in its order, the Court also stressed that the figures of the scam as unearthed to date make it crystal clear that several high-level, influential politically exposed persons are involved in the crime. The bench was also of the view that a scam of such an enormous scale involving crores and crores of money could not have been possible without the tutelage and blessings of the persons in power.
Sounding a note of caution for the investigating agencies, the Court said that the proceeds of crime have penetrated through several strata and have exchanged numerous hands and hence, it is not unusual that threats and challenges will be there in practically each and every step and therefore, the Court added, it is for the investigating officers to overcome the hurdle and unravel the truth to punish the offenders.
"The powers of the investigating officers to summon are not restricted to any particular person and the said power to investigate is to be utilized effectively to reach the goal. The investigating officers will be failing in their duties if they recede from the investigation process out of fear or otherwise; which in turn will give an impetus to the persons involved in the crime," the Court said.
"The members of ED are experienced enough to handle threats/harassments similar to the nature of the complaint as lodged by KG, the accused in custody. The Court would like to believe that the investigating officers would be able to tackle all or any complaint filed by or on behalf of an accused, co-accused or proposed/suspected accused with the sole intention to dislodge the ongoing investigation process. The Court firmly believes that the investigating officers would neither be browbeaten nor cowed down by the adamant and over-powering attitude of the accused, co-accused, suspected or proposed accused," the Court further remarked.
For context, the bench of Justice Gangopadhyay, on April 13, while hearing a petition relating to alleged irregularities in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff in West Bengal government-sponsored and aided schools, asked the ED and CBI to question Banerjee and Kuntal Ghosh.
Interestingly, Justice Gangopadhyay had ordered thus while taking into account a letter written by expelled Trinamool leader Kuntal Ghosh, wherein he had alleged that he was being pressurised to implicate Banerjee in the recruitment Scam. Banerjee also, in one of his public speeches, claimed that several incarcerated individuals were being forced to implicate him in the case.
Though the April 13 order was stayed briefly by the Supreme Court on April 17, the Top Court, on April 28, directed the Acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta HC to reassign the matter concerning the Primary Teachers' Recruitment Scam in West Bengal to another judge.
Now, when the matter was assigned to the bench of Justice Sinha, Banerjee moved a plea to recall the portion of April 13 of Justice Gangopadhyay asking CBI-ED to question him.
On his plea, the Court noted that he sought to recall only that portion of the April 13 order wherein direction has been passed for causing an investigation of the involvement of the applicants, and that he was bothered by the investigation per see.
In this regard, when Banerjee averred in the application that he is a respected person in the society and a law-abiding citizen of India, the Cpurt, in its order, observed thus:
"Being a Member of the Parliament the applicant ought to know that all citizens of the country are required to cooperate with any investigation conducted by the competent officers in accordance with law. It can be that the applicant, holding such high and responsible post, may be in the know of information which may be required and helpful for proceeding further with the scam case that is being investigated by the investigating officers."
It may be noted that The CBI today issued a summon to Banerjee to appear before them tomorrow, on 20th May in connection with the West Bengal School Recruitment scam. The summon has been issued pursuant to Calcutta High Court's April 13 order.
For the writ petitioner: Sr. Adv. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, along with Advocates Firdous Samim, Gopa Biswas, Payel Shome
For the applicant in CAN 5 of 2023 & CAN 6 of 2023: Sr. Adv. Saptansu Basu, Sr. Adv. Kishore Dutta, Sr. Adv. Sandipan Ganguly, along with Advocates Jishnu Chawdhury, Sabyasachi Banerjee, Anit Kumar Nag, Agnish Basu, Kush Agarwal, Riddhi Jain, Aakash Mishra
For the applicant in CAN 3 of 2023 & CAN 4 of 2023: Advocates Debashis Roy, Sk. Selim Rehman, Aniruddha Chatterjee, Ayan Poddar, Soham Dutta
For the Enforcement Directorate: DSGI Dhiraj Kumar Trivedi, along with Advocate Samrat Goswami
For CBI: DSGI Billwadal Bhattacharyya, along with Advocate Arijit Majumdar
For the State: Jr. SC. Sirsanya Bandopadhyay, along with Advocate Arka Kumar Nag
For the respondent no. 13: Advocates Sandip Kumar De, Abhijit Sarkar,
For WBBPE: Sr. Adv. L. K. Gupta, along with Advocates Saikat Banerjee, Ratul Biswas, Kaushik Chowdhury
For DPSC, Nadia: Advocate Arindam Chattopadhyay
Case title - Soumen Nandy Vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 139
Click Here To Read/Download Order