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Calcutta High Court appoints Justice KJ Sengupta to probe Howrah Court Violence

Calcutta High Court appoints Justice KJ Sengupta to probe Howrah Court Violence

Murali Krishnan

The Calcutta High Court has constituted a one-person commission Justice (Retd.) KJ Sengupta to inquire into the Howrah Court violence.

The order to that effect was passed by a Bench presided by Justice Biswanath Somadder and Arindam Mukherjee in the suo motu case initiated by the High Court.

The following are the issues which have been referred to the Commission by the Court:

  1. 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?
  2. 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)?
  3. 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.?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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 Commission has to file its report on the above issues within a period of three months.

During the said period, the investigation in connection with FIRs lodged against certain advocates should not be proceeded with, the Court ordered. Any further investigation shall be conducted only after completion of the judicial enquiry and upon considering the findings in the report of such judicial enquiry, it held.

Further, the Court also directed that five police personnel who are respondents in the case shall not be assigned any official work in Howrah district till the completion of enquiry by the one-person commission.

“In view of the allegations made against respondent nos.9(Vishal Garg), 12(Rajarshi Dutta), 16(V. S. R. Anantanag), 17 (Bhavna Gupta), 18(Golam Sarwar), 19(Abhijit Banerjee) and 20(Bipen Tamang) and considering their position – including the impact they may have on the investigation as to the incidents that occurred on 24th April, 2019 in and around the Howrah District Sadar Court complex – we direct the appropriate authority empowered to take necessary steps to issue appropriate direction immediately so that the said respondent nos.9, 12, 16 to 20 are not assigned any official work in the district of Howrah or any other work that may likely to influence the enquiry by the Judicial Commission till the completion of the enquiry in terms of this order.”

Importantly, the Court also ordered 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 any Court premises within West Bengal except under extreme emergency situation “that is likely to cause imminent danger to the sovereign preserve of the judiciary as an indispensable democratic institution”.

The Calcutta High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the Howrah Court violence that had prompted lawyers of the West Bengal to go on strike.

The alleged incident took place after an altercation over parking between an elderly lawyer and a guard of the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) on the morning of April 24. Several lawyers gathered on the spot to confront the civic guard, who had allegedly insulted their elderly colleague, leading to the escalation of the altercation.

A number of civic employees are reported to have attacked the lawyers with sticks and rods. The lawyers are said to have retaliated by pelting the civic staff with stones. Many two-wheelers parked on the HMC premises were damaged.

After the police failed to contain the situation, the Rapid Action Force was deployed. When tensions between the two groups flared up again in the evening, police and RAF resorted to lathi charge, leaving at least 20 injured. The police have initiated two cases based on a complaint and a counter-complaint.

On April 24 itself, the Criminal Court Bar Library swung into action against the incident. It unanimously resolved that no member of the Bar will take part in any judicial proceedings on and from April 25.

The State Bar Council had also resolved abstain from work. The Bar Council had demanded the arrest of the accused police personnel who allegedly “brutally tortured/assaulted” advocates, judicial officers, staff, and clerks of the Howrah Court. Action is also sought against the ransacking of the Bar library, several courtrooms, and shops at the Howrah Court.

Subsequently, the Calcutta High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the events leading to today’s order.

The matter will now be heard on August 26.

[Read Order]