Calcutta High Court reserves verdict in West Bengal post-poll violence case

The matter was heard by a 5-judge Bench of acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justices IP Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar.
NHRC West Bengal and Calcutta HC
NHRC West Bengal and Calcutta HC

The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday reserved its judgment in the case relating to post-poll violence that rocked the State of West Bengal after the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) party secured a thumping victory over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2021 Assembly elections to the State (Sushmita Saha Dutta v. Union of India).

The matter was heard by a five-judge Bench of Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justices IP Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar.

Considerable discussion in the case revolved around the report submitted by a 7-member committee of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which was constituted pursuant to the directions of the Court to examine allegations that many people belonging to BJP and other parties were forced to leave their houses due to violence and were not being allowed to return.

Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for State and Police officials, and Advocate General for West Bengal Kishore Datta questioned the impartiality of NHRC.

Dr. Singhvi told the Court that the report was politically motivated.

"NHRC report is a politically motivated report. The homilies on independence of NHRC is laughable," Dr. Singhvi submitted.

He pointed out tweets made by one NHRC committee member, Atif Rasheed, in which he had cast aspersions on the West Bengal Police.

"Reasonable likelihood of bias even on the part of one committee member will vitiate the NHRC report," he said.

Dr. Singhvi also questioned the genuineness of complaints/statements given by individuals to NHRC. He alleged that the same were pre-determined and kept 'ready made'.

He also pointed out how translations of many such statements from Bengali/Hindi to English led to gross exaggerations.

Senior Counsel Soumendra Nath Mookherjee also echoed similar concerns. Out of 1979 complaints, 800 plus complaints don't mention the date of incident, Mookherjee said.

AG Datta submitted that the West Bengal government took prompt action in many complaints, and that allegations to the contrary were not true. He also said that the police had lodged FIRs suo motu in many cases.

It was his argument that any and every act of violence or crime in the State cannot be classified as post-poll violence.

"Post-poll violence cannot be for indefinite period. It has to be connected with elections and occurring immediately before or after polls," he submitted.

On the other hand, Advocates Priyanka Tibrewal and J Sai Deepak, appearing for the affected individuals, refuted the arguments.

Tibrewal demanded that an independent agency must probe the post-poll violence.

The Court then proceeded to reserve its judgment.

The issue had come up before the High Court after many persons who had to flee their houses due to the violence approached the Court claiming that they were not being allowed to return home by TMC workers.

The High Court had, on May 31, ordered the formation of a three-member committee to ensure that persons displaced by post-poll violence in the State are able to return to their houses.

The three-member committee was to comprise of Member Secretary of West Bengal State Legal Services Authority (WBSLSA), the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and the NHRC.

The affected parties were directed to lodge complaints with the West Bengal State Legal Services Authority and the Committee was to examine them and take steps to ensure that people are allowed to return to their house.

The WBSLSA then submitted a report to the Court detailing the complaints received by them and the effects of the post-poll violence.

The Court recorded the following about the report of the WBSLSA.

"The number of persons reported to have suffered as per complaints received is 3,243. In a number of cases, the complaints were referred to concerned Police station but no response was received."

It, therefore, proceeded to order NHRC intervention while also directing the State to ensure that the NHRC Committee be provided necessary assistance to visit affected areas.

NHRC Chairperson, Justice Arun Mishra then constituted a seven-member committee to inquire into complaints regarding post-poll violence.

The NHRC committee subsequently submitted a report accusing the ruling Trinamool Congress of turning affairs in the State into the "law of ruler", instead of "rule of law."

It recommended that grievous offences including murder and rape should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigation, and that such cases should be tried outside the State.

"The other cases should be investigated by a court-monitored special investigation team (SIT). For adjudication, there should be fast track courts, Special PP and Witness Protection Scheme," the 50-page report stated.

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West Bengal post-poll violence shows a pernicious politico-bureaucratic-criminal nexus; has national security implications: NHRC report

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