By Sunil Garodia
There are two ways to look at the Supreme Court order in the CBI versus Kolkata Police commissioner case. If one believes that the CBI team that raided the top cop’s house went there to arrest him, then the order is a victory for him (and for Mamata Banerjee) as the court has disallowed the CBI from arresting him, at least for the present. But if one believes that the CBI team went there merely to question him and search the premises, the apex court’s order is a victory for the agency as it has ordered Rajeev Kumar to appear before the agency, with all documents and relevant material, on February 20. The CBI can also claim victory on another score – the Kolkata CP has been asked to appear before it in Shillong, a place far away from Kolkata, where his (and that of the chief minister of the state where he is posted) writ does not run and he has been asked to cooperate "faithfully". This is the reason why both the Centre and Mamata Banerjee are claiming a moral victory for the order. Mamata Banerjee feels that the Centre wanted the CBI to arrest the commissioner from her back yard and she has prevented them from doing so. The Centre will, whatever its original designs, now say that it merely wanted the CBI to question Kumar and the order has facilitated that.
But the Supreme Court order, as was proper and legal, has only touched upon the question of whether the CBI can question Rajeev Kumar and whether it can arrest him on the basis of the evidence available with it now. It was neither the court’s brief nor would it have been proper for it to go into the propriety of the unsavoury drama that played out in Kolkata when the CBI team went to look for Kumar. The agency tried to be over smart. It thought it could bulldoze into the top cop’s house and have its way. It thought it could ignore all rules and conventions and search Kumar’s house or question him. If Rajeev Kumar was neither appearing before it nor answering the repeated summons, the best way for the agency was to approach the apex court and get the order it has now been forced to get. The lesson to be learned for the CBI and the Centre is that whatever the political compulsions, they should not cut legal corners, especially in such a sensitive matter. But given the track record of the CBI and successive governments at the Centre, one feels that this is a lesson they will never learn. That is one of the biggest reasons why the CBI must be made independent.
On the other hand, the West Bengal government can be accused of overreacting. The CBI team could have been asked to return and come back with proper documents or a court order. The otherwise professional Kolkata police should have acted with restraint. There was no need to manhandle the officers or detain them at a police station. The situation came to such a pass that contempt of court proceeding against the West Bengal chief secretary, the West Bengal DGP and Rajeev Kumar is still pending. The three have been asked to reply by February 20 when the court will next hear the matter. Although Mamata hogged the limelight by playing a grand political hand which punctured the designs of the Centre, she has also laid herself open to the charge of shielding someone who is not cooperating with a Central agency that is investigating charges and trying to recover the money in chit fund scams that swindled the poor of the state and where several top functionaries of her party are accused.