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Bengal Faces Top Court Blow as CBI Retains Probe into Sheikh Shahjahan

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In a setback to the Mamata Banerjee government, the Supreme Court today dismissed its challenge to the Calcutta High Court order that transferred to the CBI investigation into an attack on a team of Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials in Bengal’s Sandeshkhali. A team of ED officials had come under a mob attack on January 5 when they went to the island to search properties linked to local strongman Sheikh Shahjahan.
The bench of Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta also questioned the Trinamool Congress government why it took 50 days to arrest Shahjahan. The now-expelled Trinamool leader is in the CBI’s custody. Besides the case relating to the attack on the ED team, the strongman and his aides face allegations of land grab, extortion and sexual harassment.

The high court had last week asked Bengal police to hand over Shahjahan’s custody to the central agency. It had also come down heavily on the state police. The Supreme Court today expunged the high court’s observations on Bengal police.
In response to the Supreme Court’s query on why it took 50 days to arrest the strongman, Bengal police said a high court order had paused the investigation. “There was a stay on investigation. We went back to court, asking for a clarification. It was clarified. Within one day, he was arrested,” senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for Bengal government, told the court. “To say that the state police is delaying the investigation…these kinds of allegations are very damaging,” he said.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, who disagreed with the Bengali government, brought up the January 5 incident. “ED officials went to this main accused’s house in a case involving a ration scam involving crores of rupees.” They were battered and the door was not open. They tried to water down the case, insofar as the assault of the ED officer is concerned. They filed some other case. That’s why the investigation was stayed,” he said. The Centre’s counsel said Bengal police made “no serious effort” to enter Shahjahan’s residence.

“There are several cases of harassment against him. He has been patronised by local police and politicians. (For) 57 days, he is not available. Then overnight he appears,” he said. Mr Raju also contested the state government’s argument that a pause in the investigation stopped state police from arresting Shahjahan.

Senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi, also appearing for Bengal government, flagged the high court’s remarks on state police. When Mr Raju said these observations may be deleted, Mr Singhvi replied, “If those observations are deleted, then what are the grounds?”

“The observations against the police and the State government are deemed to be expunged,” the court said.

The accusations made by people living on the island of Sandeshkhali in the North 24 Parganas district of Bengal have sparked a political firestorm in the state. The subject of these accusations, Shahjahan, was taken into custody last month following a 55-day manhunt. The strongman’s custody was the subject of a dramatic tug-of-war between state police and federal agencies.

The state police once refused to give him up, citing the state government’s Supreme Court challenge to the high court. But the high court ruled that its directive had not been suspended and ordered Bengal police to turn Shahjahan over to the CBI.

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