Observing that there are "definite and proved" allegations that complaints of the victims of violence in the aftermath of the West Bengal assembly polls were not even registered, the Calcutta high court on Thursday ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into all alleged cases of heinous crimes like rape and murder, while accepting the recommendations of a National Human Rights Commission panel.
A five-judge bench, passing a unanimous judgment on a batch of PILs seeking an independent probe into incidents of alleged violence after the polls which the ruling Trinamool Congress won by an overwhelming majority, also ordered constitution of a Special Investigation Team to probe all other cases.
The SIT will include Suman Bala Sahoo, Soumen Mitra and Ranveer Kumar, all IPS officers of the West Bengal cadre.
"All the cases where, as per the report of the committee, the allegations are about murder of a person and crime against women regarding rape/attempt to rape, shall be referred to CBI for investigation," the bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and justices I P Mukerji, Harish Tandon, Soumen Sen and Subrata Talukdar, ordered.
It directed the NHRC committee, constituted by its chairman on a direction by the five-judge bench, and any other commission or authority and the state to immediately hand over the records of the cases to the CBI to carry forward the probe.
The bench will monitor the investigations by both the CBI and the SIT and asked the two agencies to submit status reports to the court within six weeks.
It said that the working of the SIT will be overseen by a retired judge of the Supreme Court for which a separate order will be passed after obtaining his/her consent.
In its ruling, the bench said heinous crimes such as murder and rape "deserve to be investigated by an independent agency which in the circumstances can only be Central Bureau of Investigation."
The bench said the state failed to register FIRs even in some cases of alleged murder. "This shows pre-determined mind to take investigation into a particular direction."
"Under such circumstances investigation by independent agency will inspire confidence to all concerned," it noted.
It said allegations that the police had not registered a number of cases initially and that some were registered only after the court had intervened or the committee was constituted were found to be true.
It observed that the facts in relation to the allegations made in the PILs are "even more glaring" as the incidents are not isolated to one place in the state.
"Rather, the violence which erupted after polls and declaration of results was state-wide. Number of persons had died. The women were raped. The house of certain persons who had not supported the party in power were demolished. Their other properties were damaged. Their belongings were looted including the chattels," the court observed in its order.
The bench said there are allegations that the complainants are being threatened to withdraw the cases and a number of cases of murder being claimed as natural death without recording FIRs and conducting investigation according to the procedure established by law.
"There are definite and proved allegations that complaints filed by the victims of post-poll violence were not registered. Such types of incidents, even if isolated, are not good for healthy democracy," the bench observed.
Noting that the West Bengal police have not properly responded to allegations of inaction and tried to downplay them, the bench said, "It certainly needs investigation by an independent agency."
It said three months have lapsed since the matter was taken up by the court, but "no concrete action has been taken by the state, which could inspire confidence except filing affidavits and placing on record thousands of papers."
The bench ordered the West Bengal government to pay compensation to the victims of crimes in accordance with the policy of the state, after due verification. The compensation amount will be directly transferred to their bank accounts.
The NHRC committee had on July 13 submitted its final report to the court.
The court said that a notice issued to Rashid Munir Khan, deputy commissioner of police, South Suburban Division, of Kolkata police to show-cause as to why proceedings for contempt be not initiated against him will be dealt with later.
An interim report of the NHRC committee had mentioned that Atif Rasheed, a member of the committee, was obstructed from discharging his duty and he and his team members were attacked by some undesirable elements on June 29 in Jadavpur area on the southern fringe of the city, the court noted.
The bench directed that with the core issue of post-poll violence and the action required to be taken thereon having been resolved with its directions for investigation by the CBI and the SIT, the matters will now be placed before a division bench for dealing with other issues in the NHRC report and further proceedings on October 4.
The court rejected applications by state Forest Minister Jyotipriyo Mallick and Trinamool Congress MLA Partha Bhowmick for impleading them as parties to the proceedings.
Names resembling the two along with those of some other TMC leaders had appeared in a list of "notorious criminals" in an annexure to the NHRC report.
The bench also said that in the event of the CBI or SIT finding any case to be not related to the post-poll violence, it will be transferred to the officer in-charge of the police station concerned for further proceedings.
In a report indicting the Mamata Banerjee government, a seven-member enquiry committee set up by the NHRC chairman had recommended handing over the investigation in grievous crimes like rape and murder to the CBI and said that these cases should be tried outside the state.
"The situation prevailing in West Bengal is a manifestation of "law of ruler" and not "rule of law", the NHRC panel had said in a damning indictment of the Mamata Banerjee government.
The NHRC committee said that other cases should be investigated by a court monitored SIT and fast track courts be set up for adjudication. It also suggested appointment of special public prosecutors and introduction of witness protection scheme.
The PILs alleged that people were subjected to assault, made to flee homes and properties were destroyed during the violence in the wake of the assembly elections, sought an impartial probe into all such cases, and demanded protection of life and liberty.
Opposing the findings and recommendations of the NHRC panel, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the state's police chief, had claimed during submissions that the contents of the report were erroneous and biased.
Claiming that some members of the seven-member committee had links with the Bharatiya Janata Party, he had prayed that its recommendations should be rejected by the court.
The committee had in its scathing remarks in the final report said, "This was retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party."
Maintaining that the acts of violence resulted in disruption of life and livelihood of thousands of people and their economic strangulation, the report had noted: "The local police has been grossly derelict, if not complicit, in this violence."