Sheikh’s death in CBI custody may slow down agency’s other probes in WB

Bogtui carnage case prime accused Lalan Sheikh’s mysterious death in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) custody on December 12, has completely shrouded West Bengal’s political and legal spectrum.

Not only has it led to a political slugfest between ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition BJP, but also resulted in an investigation tug-of-war between CBI and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of state police — which has taken over the probe.

In the political slugfest, on one hand, Trinamool Congress is going all-out to nail CBI on the head by cautiously floating apprehensions over the safety and security of others in the CBI custody.

BJP, on its part, is trying to frame a conspiracy theory hatched by Trinamool Congress and state government to malign CBI and halt the progress of investigation in the other cases being probed by the central agency.

Maintaining a lowkey presence in the matter, the CPI(M) and Congress have raised questions on the actual beneficiary from the mysterious death Sheikh.

Meanwhile, the West Bengal CID has already started an investigation with an FIR naming seven CBI officers.

CBI on its part has approached Calcutta High Court challenging the FIR as “politically” biased on grounds that of the seven CBI officers named, one is an investigating officer of the cattle smuggling case in West Bengal who has no connection with the agency’s separate investigative team conducting parallel probe on two linked cases of murder of Trinamool Congress leader Vadu Sheikh and Bogtui carnage.

A single judge bench of Calcutta High Court Justice Jay Sengupta, while allowing CID to go ahead with its probe process, has barred the state agency from taking cohesive action against any of the CBI officers named in the FIR.

Now in the midst of such political slugfest and investigation tug-of war, the question that is floating around in the corridors of power in West Bengal is whether this unfortunate development will actually slow down the progress of the central investigative agencies in other crucial cases in the state like teachers’ recruitment irregularities scandal, coal and cattle scams.

Legal brains opine that although from the legal point of view this development is unlikely to impact the progress of CBI’s investigation in other cases, the custodial death is surely bound to put the central agency in a sticky wicket.

According to senior counsel of the Calcutta High Court Kaushik Gupta, as the custodian of undertrial Lalan Sheikh, the CBI investigation officials cannot deny responsibility of his custodial death even if it is a matter of suicide.

Gupta added: “As rightly pointed out by Justice Joymalya Bagchi, the death in custody, even if it is a suicide, was unnatural and CBI can deny responsibility in this matter. That way CBI is at the backfoot right at this moment. However, strictly from the legal point of view it cannot be said that the development or the mishap will hamper the progress of CBI’s investigation in other cases like teachers’ recruitment scam, since the central agency probe in the matter is not only as per court order but also court- monitored.

“So, at any point of time, if CBI feels that their sleuths in these cases are facing hurdles by any administrative or political machinery in carrying out the probe process smoothly, they can inform the court of the development and the court will give appropriate directions.”

According to Calcutta High Court counsel Jyoti Prakash Khan, the development of including the name of Sushanta Bhattacharya, CBI’s investigation officer in the cattle- smuggling scam, among the seven CBI officers named in the FIR of state police in Lalan Sheikh’s custodial death case, has made the situation more complicated.

Khan said: “The onus is on the state police or CID to probe that Sushanta Bhattacharya had somehow got linked with the separate team of CBI probing Vadu Sheikh’s murder and Bogtui carnage. Although the CBI has substantiated its submission that Bhattacharya had no connection with the Bogtui case, the main onus of substantiating the charges will be on the state police.”

Senior political observer and commentator like Arundhati Mukherjee feels that in a state like West Bengal, where politician connotation prevail everywhere, an issue like custodial death and that too in CBI custody will continue to rule the arena of political debates for quite some time now.

Mukherjee noted: “My experience says that the political slugfest on this issue will continue till some equal or more burning issue surfaces. What I am scared of is that amidst this ever-changing political slugfest, the real story behind Sheikh’s custodial death may never be known.”

20221218-081402

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