Basirhat violence: SC stays breach of privilege proceeding against West Bengal officials

The breach of privilege proceedings against West Bengal’s chief secretary and four other senior officials initiated by the Lok Sabha secretariat in connection with the violence in Basirhat have been stayed by the Supreme Court.

ON Monday, the Supreme Court stayed the breach of privilege proceedings against West Bengal’s chief secretary and four other senior officials initiated by the Lok Sabha secretariat on a complaint filed by Dr Sukanta Majumdar, a member of Parliament belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for alleged misconduct, brutality and causing life-threatening injuries by police officials and district administration of Basirhat, North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.

A Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra issued notice to the Lok Sabha secretariat, asking it to file the reply within four weeks. Till then, the Bench said, no further action would be taken against the petitioners.

The Bench was hearing a petition filed by chief secretary Bhagwati Prasad Gopalika, district magistrate of North 24 Parganas district Sharad Kumar Dwivedi, director general and inspector general of police Rajeev Kumar, senior superintendent of police, Basirhat, North 24 Parganas Dr Hossain Mehedi Rehman and additional superintendent of police (SP) Basirhat, North 24 Parganas district Partha Ghosh.

The petitioners had been summoned by the Committee of Privileges, Lok Sabha today at 10:30 a.m.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singvi assisted by advocate-on-record Astha Sharma, for the petitioners, submitted that the curfew under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed in the area.

Violating the curfew, Dr Majumdar and BJP supporters gathered in the region. Both Sibal and Singhvi argued that the political activities could not be part of the breach of privilege.

On February 10, a letter was received via email from Tapas Ghosh, district president, BJP, Basirhat, addressed to the SP, Basirhat, regarding his intent to perform or stage a demonstration or deputation by BJP on February 13. The permission to hold such a demonstration was denied by SP, Basirhat, because of the prevailing law and order situation within the district.

On February 13, the sub-divisional officer, Basirhat promulgated a Section 144 CrPC Order between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons within the limits of the office of the SP, Basirhat.

The petitioners contended that despite the denial of permission and the issuance of the prohibitory Order under Section 144 CrPC, 300–400 BJP supporters gathered near the SP office at Basirhat under the leadership of Sukanta Majumdar, BJP president, West Bengal and other leaders.

The petitioners submitted that BJP supporters and leaders shouted provocative slogans despite repeated announcements asking them to disperse. They alleged that the protesters broke barricades put up by the police and started pelting stones and brickbats targeting the on-duty police personnel resulting in injuries to the police personnel.

On February 14, the petitioners submitted that Majumdar and his supporters sat on the road in an impromptu dharna. Despite repeated persuasion by the police to leave the place, they continued sitting well past midnight.

Finding no other alternative, the petitioners submitted, the police arrested them under preventive sections of the law and took them to the nearby DSA ground, Basirhat and released them on personal bonds.

However, Majumdar and some of his supporters went to a hotel located in Taki, falling under the jurisdiction of Hasnabad police station, Basirhat.

The petitioners averred that the police had received information that Majumdar along with his supporters, in the garb of performing Saraswati Puja, shall try to sneak into the Sandeshkhali police station area in violation of the Section 144 CrPC Order imposed therein.

The petitioners contended that despite the police’s repeated request not to proceed towards the Sandeshkhali area, the supporters started hurling abuses at the police and started jostling and pushing the police team to make their way toward the parked vehicles.

The petitioners claimed that while police personnel were taking Majumdar to the hotel, he muscled his way ahead and climbed upon the bonnet of a police vehicle parked nearby.

The police, the petitioners added, finding Majumdar’s position to be unsafe for a Z category protectee, repeatedly asked him to get down but the same was ignored by him.

Thereafter, one female constable and one male constable got on the bonnet in order to bring him down to safety. However, suddenly, one lady supporter of BJP also climbed on the bonnet and pushed down both the constables to the ground.

In the melee, Majumdar and the lady supporter fell on the bonnet itself, the petitioners submitted.

Subsequently, Majumdar filed a complaint with the speaker of Lok Sabha on February 15, alleging breach of privilege on the grounds of “detention” and “ill-treatment” by police personnel during a protest outside the SP office at Basirhat in the North 24 Parganas district.

On the very next day, the Lok Sabha secretariat’s privileges and ethics branch issued an office memorandum summoning the petitioners to give oral evidence.

In his complaint, Majumdar submitted that on February 14, while attempting to perform Saraswati Puja in an area where Section 144 had not been established, he was stopped by the police.

Despite the lack of legal justification, the police charged him and his supporters with lathis, Majumdar contended.

During the altercation, he claimed, he climbed onto a police vehicle. One lady Rapid Action Force constable was asked to climb the same vehicle and she began to pull him down from the car.

While the constable was trying to pull him, simultaneously the local additional SP ordered the driver to start moving the vehicle, he claimed, due to which he lost his control and fell.

He said he had suffered major injuries in the chest, neck and back, resulting in loss of consciousness.