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Sandeshkhali: HC 'surprised' TMC leader has not been arrested yet

Last updated on: February 20, 2024 19:17 IST

The Calcutta high court on Tuesday expressed surprise that Shajahan Sheikh, the main accused and 'core' of the Sandeshkhali issue, has not been arrested by the state police so far, and said it does not know 'whether he is being protected'.

IMAGE: Women gather to meet NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma, at Sandeshkhali Police station in North 24 Parganas on Monday, February 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The division bench, headed by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam, also refused to interfere with a single bench order on Monday that allowed Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari and another party MLA Shankar Ghosh to visit the Sandeshkhali village.

Adhikari was earlier in the day stopped by police, citing prohibitory orders in the area.


'If one person can hold the entire population to ransom, then that person should not be encouraged by the ruling dispensation,' the court observed.

The observation was made during the hearing of an appeal by the state government challenging a single bench order, which had also stayed until further orders for the imposition of Section 144 in some areas of Sandeshkhali by the administration.

The riverine Sandeshkhali area, situated about 100 kilometres from Kolkata on the borders of the Sunderbans, has been witnessing protests over allegations of sexual atrocities and land grab by some ruling Trinamool Congress leaders.

"It is rather surprising that the person who is said to be the core for the problem being precipitated cannot be apprehended still and is on the run, defying law," the division bench said.

Stating that it does not know 'whether he is being protected' or not, the court said that the fact remains that he has not been secured.

'It could mean that the state police machinery doesn't have the wherewithal to secure him or (he) is outside the jurisdiction of the state police,' the court observed.

The bench said that there is material to show that Shajahan has done damage to the public, instead of doing good as an elected representative in the North 24 Parganas Zilla Parishad.

The division bench noted that the single bench of Justice Apurba Sinha Roy had on February 12 taken suo motu cognisance of allegations of sexual assault at gunpoint and forcible taking away of tribal land.

The Chief Justice said that treating the suo moto matter initiated by Justice Sinha Roy as a report, he has directed on the administrative side that it be placed before the division bench dealing with PIL matters, which is the bench presided by him.

The division bench said that the court can take judicial notice of the fact that the problem precipitated after Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials went to search the premises of TMC leader Shajahan at Sandeshkhali on January 5.

It noted that the state police have not been able to apprehend Shajahan despite several cases having been registered against him over allegations that ED officers were brutally attacked when they went to conduct the search operations.

The division bench said that if Shajahan continues to be on the run, then law and order problems will obviously arise as he has his supporters.

The bench said that in the suo motu matter, Shajahan could be asked to appear before this court.

The Chief Justice said that on the day he will be asked to appear, along with the state, the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will also be directed to be present.

The bench directed that notice be issued to the advocate general representing the state and that the additional solicitor general representing the Union of India be informed so that lawyers representing the ED and the CBI are present before the court on the next date of hearing of the suo motu matter.

Directing that the matter will be taken up for hearing on Monday next, the division bench said that appropriate orders will be passed after hearing all the parties.

The court said that establishment of redressal mechanisms over allegations of forcible taking away of land owned by villagers in Sandeshkhali by way of setting up camps by the state government, in itself prima facie shows that land grabbing was committed in the area.

"The allegation that the lands owned by the tribal villagers have been forcibly taken away in violation of the legal formalities stands prima facie established," the Chief Justice observed.

The bench said that while being unable to apprehend Shajahan, the imposition of Section 144 of CrPC cannot have any impact, observing that the administration was unnecessarily creating a tense situation.

Following the order of the division bench, BJP MLAs Suvendu Adhikari and Shankar Ghosh visited Sandeshkhali village panchayat area in the afternoon.

During the hearing of the state's appeal, Advocate General Kishore Dutta submitted that the members of the SC/ST commission, women's commission and West Bengal Governor C V Ananda Bose were not prevented from visiting the place, but when political personalities go, the situation is precipitated.

Adhikari's lawyer Billwadal Bhattacharya informed the court that the BJP leader who intended to interact with the alleged victims, was stopped at Dhamakhali ferry ghat on his way to Sandeshkhali on Tuesday morning by the police on the ground that the state was moving the appeal.

Allowing Adhikari and Ghosh to go to Sandeshkhali, the division bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, directed the BJP leader to ensure that none of the supporters or people belonging to the party accompany them, except security personnel, who have been deployed for them.

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