A constitutional crisis and political high drama broke out in Kolkata on Sunday after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee began a public dharna to “save the Constitution”, in what her Trinamool Congress party called a “coup” by the Modi government. The high drama started after a CBI team moved to arrest the Kolkata police commissioner, which in turn detained five officials causing the high voltage drama.
What’s the fuss about?
There was a high drama in front of Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s official residence on Loudon Street on Sunday as a group CBI officers approached the house, but they were stopped by city police personnel, who also forcibly took the federal probe agency officers to a police station.
CBI joint director Pankaj Srivastava said the agency’s officials had gone to question Kumar in Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scam cases and “we would have rounded him up if he hadn’t cooperated with us”. According to the CBI, Kumar, a 1989-batch IPS officer of West Bengal cadre who led a Special Investigation Team of West Bengal Police probing the scams, needs to be questioned regarding missing documents and files but he has not responded to notices to appear before the agency.
A day earlier, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) claimed that Kumar had been “absconding” and “being looked for” in connection with Saradha and Rose Valley ponzi scam cases. As the CBI team landed at the city police chief’s residence, a team of Kolkata Police officers rushed to the spot to speak to the CBI officials and tried to enquire if they had the documents required for questioning Kumar.
Later on, a small team of CBI officials was taken to Shakespeare Sarani police station for further discussions. Thereafter, more men arrived at the spot and a commotion ensued. Some CBI officers were then forcibly bundled into police jeeps and taken to the police station.
Mamata Banerjee steps-in, supports Kolkata police chief
As politics played out on the street, the chief minister, who rushed to the residence of Kumar, said, “Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are trying to organise a coup in the state as we had organised the opposition rally on January 19. We were aware that the CBI will attack us after we organised the rally.” She was referring to the Brigade rally attended by leaders of about 20 opposition parties.
In a tit-for-tat move, a team of Kolkata Police officials also cordoned off the CGO Complex- the state headquarters of CBI. CBI officer Srivastava told PTI, “I have also been detained and there are police officers standing outside my house.” Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Pravin Tripathi said the CBI officers have been let go from the police station after questioning. “They just said they had come for a secret operation. We don’t know what kind of operation it is,” Tripathi said. Later in the evening, central forces arrived at the CBI office in Kolkata.
Subsequently Kolkata Police personnel vacated the compound. A statement was issued earlier in the day from Kolkata Police, dismissing reports of Kumar being missing from work. “Please take note that not only is the CP Kolkata available in the city, but has also been attending office on a regular basis, with the exception of January 31, 2019, when he was on leave for a day. All concerned may please take note that if any news is spread without proper verification, Kolkata Police will initiate strict legal action against defamation of both the CP Kolkata and Kolkata Police,” the police said.
The West Bengal government claims that the Central Bureau of Investigation team that went to the police commissioner’s residence had no warrant and was part of a “secret operation”.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, in turn, refuted this allegation, claiming it did have the necessary documents. The agency also accused Commissioner Rajeev Kumar of trying to destroy evidence as well as obstructing the course of the case. The Central Bureau of Investigation will approach the Supreme Court on Monday to continue its investigation.
Rahul Gandhi, other opposition leaders extend full support to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and several other opposition leaders extended their full support to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her sit-in against the Centre over CBI move in the state, saying the happenings in Bengal were part of the unrelenting attack on India’s institutions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Maharashtra NavNirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, R J D national president Lalu Prasad and DMK leader M. K. Stalin were among leaders who expressed their solidarity with Banerjee in tweets.
Saradha was a chit fund that operated across eastern India, with a concentration in West Bengal. Depositors could invest as little as Rs 100 with the promise of disproportionately high returns of up to 50% per year. It was a classic ponzi scheme: payouts for old investors were generated by investments from new ones. Since no assets were created, the scheme collapsed when, inevitably, new investors dried up. In 2013, market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India ordered Saradha to stop its operations.
Rose valley scam
The Rose Valley scam is an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme where entities affiliated to the group — Rose Valley Real Estates and Constructions and Rose Valley Hotels and Entertainment — garnered thousands of crores from investors, primarily in the eastern States. These sums were ostensibly installments for property purchases or holiday packages. But investors also had the option of getting their money back with a tidy interest — up to 21 per cent annualised. On being confronted by market regulator SEBI that started getting complaints from various authorities, the Rose Valley entities resorted to the Indian rope trick — delay and obfuscate by appealing against the SEBI notice.
Meanwhile, Rose Valley also came under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and CBI after the Supreme Court’s instruction to probe shady companies raising funds from small depositors — a fallout of the Saradha scam. It’s a big one, this — the sleuths put the Rose Valley scam at around Rs 17,000 crore; the small depositors association pegs it much higher at around Rs 40,000 crore.
(Inputs from Agencies)