CBI vs Mamata Banerjee: How the showdown started in Kolkata and Delhi

A showdown between Kolkata Police and the CBI started at around 5pm on Sunday when the federal anti-corruption agency’s team reached the residence of city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, said officials familiar with the development.

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal, CBI, Kolkata, Delhi,

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee addresses media after comes out from Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar’s residence, in Kolkata, Sunday late evening, Feb 03, 2019.

Sunday’s unprecedented showdown between Kolkata Police and the CBI started at around 5pm when the federal anti-corruption agency’s team reached the residence of city police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, said officials familiar with the development. (Follow live updates here)

And in retaliation against the action by the Central Bureau of Investigation at Kumar’s residence, Kolkata Police also sent its teams at the offices of the agency in the city and the residence of CBI’s West Bengal unit chief Pankaj Srivastava forcing him to lock himself up for more than three hours. Shrivastava apprehended his arrest by the city police, added officials.

The Hindustan Times spoke to around half a dozen key officials who had direct knowledge of the incident or were a witness to the chaotic scenes in Kolkata on Sunday.

“The Supreme Court had asked CBI in May 2014 to probe all the chit fund scams and look into the larger conspiracy in the matter. The CBI suspected that Kolkata Police and West Bengal government were deliberately delaying the investigation. Rajeev Kumar headed the special investigation team (SIT) of West Bengal police when it was probing the chit fund scams of the state before the top court asked the CBI to step in,” a central government official, who is familiar with the developments, said.

“The CBI officials alleged that Kumar was not handing them over material evidence in the case like laptops, mobile and phones and documents the SIT picked up during its investigation and thus creating hurdles in the agency’s probe,” the official said.

He added the CBI had sent several summons to Kumar, directly as well as through the state police chief and the WB government, in the last two years but he kept evading and the situation reached to the boiling point on Sunday.

A second person, a witness to the chaos in Kolkata, said as the CBI team reached Kumar’s house to question him and if necessary, arrest him, it was confronted by the guards deployed there. The guards asked the CBI team to go to the local police station instead but when they said they had come to see Kumar, they were taken to the Shakespeare Sarani police station.

“In a tit for tat scenario, armed teams of Kolkata Police reached the CBI offices in Nizam Palace and CGO Complex by 6pm. The CBI officers alleged that the city police teams laid a siege of the CBI offices and didn’t allow anyone to go in or outside the offices,” said the second person, who was a witness to what was happening at Srivastava’s house.

“Another city police team reached the residence of Srivastava who stays there with his wife and 13-year-old daughter. The Kolkata Police team sent at the residence of Srivastava had female police personnel too, which the CBI official thought might be there to pick his wife and daughter too,” he said.

On the other side, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reached Kumar’s house and told reporters there that the CBI was working at the behest of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. She also alleged that the agency’s officials had come to arrest Kumar, who had done no wrong. She decided to sit on protest and support started pouring in for the chief minister from top opposition leaders in the country who called her.

“Kolkata Police and WB government obstructed the CBI in conducting its investigation handed over to it by the Supreme Court. The city police also tried to terrorise those who carrying out investigation also terrorised those involved in the investigation,” said a CBI official in a counter-allegation. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Srivastava was holding a small get-together with an additional director general rank official of a paramilitary force, an intelligence bureau official and an Orissa cadre Indian Police Service official, who is posted in Kolkata.

“As the city police team arrived at the residence of Srivastava, he shut the doors of accommodation from inside. Srivastava and all his guests remained locked inside the house till around 9pm,” said a woman who was inside his house when the police reached there.

“Kolkata Police personnel were knocking on the entrance of the accommodation to gain entry into the house. Maybe the presence of other senior officials deterred them. It looked as if they had come to arrest Srivastava,” she said.

It was a traumatic experience for Srivastava and his family.

“Srivastava immediately got in touch with his boss and the agency’s acting director M Nageswara Rao explaining the situation. Rao, in turn, asked the Centre to rescue Srivastava and his family,” said a person who is also a witness to what happened at the senior CBI official’s residence.

“A CRPF contingent deployed in Kolkata was immediately asked to move to Srivastava’s residence. Other CRPF units were asked to secure the CBI’s offices. The CRPF took more than one hour to reach there and it was a terrible time till the central force arrived at the residence of Srivastava,” the officer said.

A central government official posted in Kolkata said after the SOS from Srivastava, Union home ministry officials called senior state administration officials and told them to defuse the situation immediately. The Kolkata Police team at the residence of Srivastava and CBI offices were withdrawn only after that.

In Delhi, the acting CBI chief sought a legal opinion on the next course of action. The agency officials met government lawyers to decide whether to move the Supreme Court on Sunday night or Monday morning. It was decided that the agency will approach the top court on Monday morning, said a CBI official in Delhi.

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