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Calcutta Notebook

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The relation between the police and the judiciary often takes a complex form. Readers of Frontier may recall the famous Archana Guha case. Archana Guha was brutally tortured in police custody and maimed for life. But during the period of Indira-Siddhartha fascist terror, she had no scope of seeking redress. After the eclipse of that regime, she filed a case against a few policemen including Runu Guha Neogy. Guha, for treatment, went to Denmark and settled there. From there she had to come over to Kolkata at regular intervals in order to fight the case. At the test identification parade, she identified Runu Guha Neogy and another policeman as the torturer. After this identification, the case was transferred to the session court for trial. But a judge of the Kolkata High Court quashed the case, stating that there was no reasonable ground for trial. What more reasonable ground he expected after the identification by the victim herself was a moot question. En passant, it may be mentioned that subsequently, this judge was arrested for having assets disproportinate with his income. After this judge's verdict was announced, the plaintiff went to the Supreme Court. The apex court overturned the judgment of the High Court and ordered a speedy trial of the case. At the trial, Runu Guha Neogy, who had before that been promoted to the rank of Deputy Commissioner, was declared guilty and given two years' rigorous imprisonment. He however appealed against this judgment and while the legal process of settling the appeal was going on, breathed his last. If one goes through the entire episode, one may form a guess about the vicissitudes of the relations between the police and the judiciary.

A recent phenomenon, which is still far from complete, suggests a contrast. A case of murder of the father of a dissident Trinamul Congress candidate at the panchayet polls of 2013, in which the local police behaved in an extremely unscrupulous fashion, was taken up by the High Court (Vide 'Bengal is Shining', Frontier, March 16-22) and a CID investigation was ordered. The police had forced the daughter-in-law to sign a blank sheet of paper and put the names of a few persons, one of whom was the private tutor of the family of the decased, on the FIR. Obviously it was not designed to arrest the real culprits. After these accused persons were released from jail on bail, they demanded a high level investigation into the matter, and the family of the killed became a party in the case. Meanwhile, the family of the victim filed a fresh FIR, naming two important district leaders of the Trinamul Congress. But the local and district police paid scant regard to this fresh complaint. The judge, Justice Dipankar Datta, accused the police of unscruulous and avaricious conduct and handed over the case to the CID. The latter too acted callously and wasted more than six months in the name of investigation. This callousness was patently due to the urge to remain in the good graces of the ruling party and its leader Mamata Banerjee. Dissatisfied at the behaviour of the CID, the judge handed over the task to a special investigation team (SIT) on 14 February 2014, and the DG police agreed to lead the investigation. The first report, submitted by the SIT after 15 days, was found practically useless and the judge asked the SIT to take up the matter seriously and submit a report on the progress of investigation on 2 April. This time too it was found that nothing had been done. And the DG after such a long period of procrastination, prayed for his release from the SIT on the pretext of parliamentary polls, although when he had agreed to head the SIT, he was well aware of the period and dates of the polls. It is perfectly clear what happened. The DC’s purpose was to agree to head the SIT, and then to resort to dilatory tactics deliberately so that action was delayed. Mr Dipankar Datta did not take a kind view of these things. He was infuriated and on 2 April, accused the DG of cowardly behaviour and total incompetence. Referring to a case in which a professor of Jadavpur University was arrested without any FIR, following a cartoon, he also raised the subject of over-active nature of the police in petty matters and callousness in regard to an incident in which a person was shot dead. The DG has had to swallow the insult. One may surmise that loyalty to political bosses has thickened the skins of all sorts of police officers to an extent that would put even a rhinoceros to shame.

Following the entire episode, it appears that the behaviour of judges differs according to their respective levels of independence of mind. For quite some time, there is a standing reproach against judges that they often succumb to considerations of power and pelf. This is not unnatural in a class-divided society in which wealth and power reign supreme. Mr Dipankar Datta's probity, patience and uprightness have demonstrated that not all judges belong to that species.

Finally the judge, on 10 April, asked if the DG was afraid of arresting the principal accused because he had the blessing of the chief minister- the chief minister was seen sharing the dias with the principal accused on 9 April at a public meeting—and ordered the DG to appear before the court on 11 April and give reasons for his callousness. The DG and the state government did not have the courage to face Mr Dipankar Datta and an appeal was made to the division bench of the High Court to spare the DG of this trouble. On 11 April, the day when the DG was to appear at the High Court and explain why the chief accused had not been arrested, the state government secured a stay order on the directive of Dipankar Datta. Besides, the hearing was postponed by three weeks and the DG was asked to submit a report on the progress of the investigation to the division bench, which not took upon itself the task of trial. Thus the DG, who had shown extreme and deliberate callousness, was given a respite and his political patrons some breathinbg space. Justice to the family of the killed, however, receded into the background. The uprightness of a single judge was not enough to ensure it.
According to the latest report, the family of the killed is preparing to go to the apex court in order to challenge the order of the division bench of the High Court. Here the obstacle is the paucity of resources. Happily enough, not all lawyers are only after money and quite a few of them have promised to stand by the family of the victim and to raise the funds required for the legal battle. Only time can tell whether the culprits will be punished. A comparison may, however, be made with the Archana Guha case, in which a large number of persons provided Guha with monetary and other kinds of help.

Frontier
Vol. 46, No. 43, May 4 -10, 2014