Calcutta HC Appoints Justice K J Sengupta To Enquire Police Violence Against Howrah Lawyers
Terming the police action against lawyers in Howrah Court premises "unprecedented, crude and barbaric", the Calcutta High Court has appointed former HC judge Justice K J Sengupta as one-man commission to enquire into incident.
The order was passed by a bench of Justices Biswanath Somadder and Arindam Mukherjee in the suo moto proceedings initiated by the High Court in the wake of untoward incidents which occurred in the premises of the Howrah District Sadar Court complex on 24th April, 2019, when police personnel allegedly entered into court premises and assaulted lawyers.
"The sovereign preserve of a sacred institution under our Constitution and one of the three p.illars of democracy – the judiciary – witnessed helplessly, violation of its sanctity, dignity and majesty, by an unprecedented, crude and barbaric action of some utterly insensitive members of the police force of the State of West Bengal, who, by such action, violated its sacred space and preserve without obtaining any sanction or authority from the district Judgeship of Howrah or the High Court for the purpose of entering the precincts of the Howrah District Sadar Court complex", observed the bench.
On April 29, a dispute between lawyers and the Howrah civic staff flared up after an elderly lawyer was turned away by the guard of the civic headquarters on Mahatma Gandhi Road as he tried to park his vehicle in the civic agency's compound. After the quarrel, many lawyers joined him and protested against the guard insulting the elderly lawyer. The matter escalated. The lawyers claim they were attacked by the civic agency staff. The staff, on the other hand, claims they were attacked first. The police intervened and chased away lawyers while thrashing many resulting in severe injuries.
Taking suo moto cognizance of this issue, the bench of Chief Justice T B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee initiated proceedings, and ordered police to keep off court premises. The matter was later assigned to the bench headed by Justice Biswanath Somadder.
The following are the issues referred to the Commission by the Court:
- Was the entry of the police personnel into the Howrah District Sadar Court complex on their own without being called for by the learned District and Sessions Judge or any other judicial officer necessary and justified in the facts and circumstances of the instant case?
- Who were the police personnel who had actually entered into the Howrah District Sadar Court complex on 24th April 2019 at around 5.00 p.m. and resorted to lathi charge and fired tear gas shell(s)?
- If the entry to the Howrah District Sadar Court complex by the police personnel at around 5.00 p.m. was not necessary and justified, what measures are recommended against the erring police personnel who had actually entered the Howrah District Sadar Court complex on 24th April 2019 at around 5.00 p.m.?
- Did the police personnel make use of disproportionate force as against the advocates within the precincts of the Howrah District Sadar Court complex? If yes, what are the measures recommended against such erring police personnel?
- Were the police justified in taking into custody and detaining the advocates, namely, Tanushree Das and Subhodeep Bhattacharya? If not, what are the steps recommended to be taken against the erring police personnel?
- Are the FIRs said to have been lodged on 24th April 2019, 25th April 2019 and 26th April 2019 depict the correct picture of the incidents alleged to have occurred? If yes, to recommend steps with regard thereto in accordance with law.
- Who amongst the employees and staff of HMC entered the Howrah District Sadar Court complex on 24th April 2019 as stated in the affidavits of respondent nos.7, 8, 9 and 12? What is the extent of damages caused by them? Who are the advocates beaten up by them? What steps are recommended to be taken against such employees and staff of HMC?
The Court observed that the allegations of police atrocities are prima facie substantiated by photographs and video footages.
The Court has directed that five police personnel, who are respondents in the case, should not be assigned any official work in Howrah district till the completion of enquiry by the one-person commission.
The Court has also directed the West Bengal Government to "ensure that in future, no police personnel – unless specifically called for, either by the High Court or the concerned District Court – shall enter into any Court premises except under extreme emergency situation that is likely to cause imminent danger to the sovereign preserve of the judiciary as an indispensable democratic institution".