KOLKATA: In a major setback for former Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar, the Calcutta high court on Friday removed the no-arrest shield granted to him, vacating its earlier order that protected him from being taken into custody by the CBI in the multi-crore Saradha Ponzi scam case.
The CBI moved promptly after Justice Madhumati Mitra’s order and issued a fresh notice to Kumar to appear at its Kolkata headquarters at 10am on Saturday. A CBI team also visited Kumar’s residence on Friday evening to mark his attendance in accordance with an HC order of May 30. Kumar is currently the state CID additional director general.
The court on Friday turned down Kumar’s prayers, including one to quash a May 27 CBI notice seeking his appearance for questioning. Officials said Friday’s HC order has left him with no option but to move the Supreme Court. However, there’s an alternative — moving the high court again to seek anticipatory bail. But Kumar might not be too keen to do that, officials close to him said.
Kumar’s counsel Milon Mukherjee refused to comment on the developments. “I cannot tell anything without seeing the order,” he said.
CBI officials, too, refused to spell out their next course of action, adding that a lot would depend on how Kumar “responded to the situation”. “Kumar will be questioned,” a person close to the probe said. “A notice has been served for him to appear at the CBI office at 10am on Saturday,” he added.
Kumar was commissioner of Bidhannagar Police when a special investigation team was set up under him to probe the Saradha scam that allegedly duped people of nearly Rs 2,500 crore. Trouble erupted after allegations that he tampered with evidence to protect some of those believed to be involved in the case.
Justice Mitra turned down Kumar’s plea that he was being singled out by the CBI and that his image was being tarnished. Officers senior to him, who were part of the SIT, were questioned by the CBI as well, the court said.
Kumar’s contention that the notice served to him on May 27 by the investigating officer was mala fide failed to cut ice with the judge, who observed that an investigation officer could question anyone acquainted with the case. An IO may treat somebody as a witness who could be treated as an accused later, the court observed.
Refusal to appear for questioning may also amount to non-cooperation and involvement, the court observed. Justice Mitra also observed that it was the duty of every responsible officer to assist an investigation.
Kumar had moved the high court after getting the May 27 CBI notice. A vacation bench granted him protection on May 30 from arrest by the CBI. This stay on arrest and coercive action was extended from time to time as the hearing continued. But on Friday, the court refused to entertain Kumar’s plea that no coercive action be taken against him without its permission. Justice Mitra made it clear that the right to life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution was not absolute but a qualified right.
The CBI had in April submitted in the Supreme Court that custodial interrogation was necessary as Kumar was not cooperating in the investigation. The apex court on May 17 withdrew the protection against arrest granted to Kumar and directed him to move the high court or a trial court to seek relief.