West Bengal Coal Trading Scam: Supreme Court Issues Notice To Seek CBI’s Reply On Plea For Investigation In FIR Without State’s Consent
The Supreme Court Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and MR Shah on Monday while issuing notice to Union of India and Superintendent of Police Anti- Corruption Branch along with Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) refused to grant interim protection against the Impugned Judgement of Calcutta High Court in which it allowed CBI to investigate the case pertaining to illegal mining & transportation of coal through Railways in Asansol- Raniganj belt of West Bengal without the State’s consent.
“The interim directions passed by the High Court tantamount to grant of final relief as prayed for by the CBI, rendering the adjudication of the Writ Appeal a mere academic exercise. Further, the impugned order is prejudicial to the Freedom of Life and Liberty of the Petitioner as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India as the Petitioner is made subject to the rigours of an-ongoing investigation which is devoid of legal sanctity”, the plea stated.
In the present matter, on 27.11.2020 an FIR was registered by the CBI alleging offences under section 120(B), 409 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 r/w section 13(2) & section 13(1)(a) of the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988 upon information that illegal excavation and theft of coal was being done by criminal elements from the leasehold area of Eastern Coalfield Ltd, in active connivance of the officials of Eastern Coalfield Ltd , Central Industrial Security Force , Indian Railways and concerned departments. The allegations against the petitioner, Director of Mark Enclave Private Ltd who was engaged in the business of purchase and sale of coal were that he was one of the main organisers for most of the illegal mining at ECL area and transportation of illegal excavated/stolen coal. The petitioner filed a writ petition seeking quashing of FIR against him before the Ld Single Judge of Calcutta High Court for want of power and jurisdiction of the CBI to lodge the same and undertake further investigation. He also sought for interim protection and prayed for not taking any coercive steps against him in addition to the stay of further investigation by CBI. During the pendency of the writ, the CBI prayed for issuance of Non Bailable Warrants (NBW’s) against the petitioner before Special Judge (CBI) which were issued. The Ld Special Judge (CBI) also issued proclamation against the petitioner.
On 03.02.2021, the Ld.Single Judge of Calcutta High Court observed that the FIR was validly lodged and was not to be interfered with. The Bench also permitted the CBI to continue its investigation in respect to the said FIR within the “Railway Areas” situated in West Bengal. It further held that the CBI was authorised to summon and interrogate witnesses residing in West Bengal, even in places other than railway areas, for the purposes of such investigation and that in the event the CBI deemed it necessary, for the purposes of such investigation within the Railway areas in West Bengal and in other States, it would be the liberty to approach the State authorities of West Bengal for the purpose of the latter’s cooperation in the matter.
Being aggrieved by the order of Ld Single Judge, the petitioner preferred an Appeal before the Ld Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court. The Ld Division Bench, rejected the petitioner’s interim prayers and permitted the CBI to continue investigation in the impugned FIR over the entire State of West Bengal. Thus, the petitioner filed an SLP praying for grant of ex parte and ad interim stay in relation to the impugned judgement of the Calcutta High Court & investigation dated 27.11.2020 registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The petitioners also prayed for issuance of directions to the CBI, Kolkata to not take any coercive action against the petitioner in relation to the FIR dated 27.11.2020.
The petitioner in his plea, firstly submitted that the CBI did not have any territorial jurisdiction of the State of West Bengal to investigate in “ Railway Area” without prior consent of the state. In this regards, the petitioner relied on the notification dated 16.11.2018 by which the Government of West Bengal withdrew its Consent Notification under which it accorded consent under section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act,1946 to extend the power and jurisdiction of all members of the Delhi Special Police Establishment to the state of West Bengal. The petitioner placed reliance on section 5 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 and Entry 8 read with Entry 80 of list I of the VII Schedule to contend that the power and jurisdiction of the CBI to any area (including Railway areas) was subject to the concerned State’s consent as mandated under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act,1946.
Secondly, the petitioner contended that the conduct of investigation by the CBI was de hors the law as the allegations in the FIR related to coal mining in mine areas which were beyond the Railway Areas. The petitioner in his plea in this regard further submitted that once it was established that the primary offence was alleged to be committed within the State of West Bengal, then the CBI could not use a fringe element of the said offence as a benchmark to usurp jurisdiction and its right to investigate into the offence.
Thirdly, the plea stated that the term “Railway Areas” was not defined under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act,1946 and therefore due to vagueness of the statute, CBI could not be given unlimited and unbridled powers to investigate into cases where no territorial jurisdiction was defined.
The petitioner in his plea also submitted that the allegations under the FIR were vague.
“The petitioner seeks to quash the FIR registered by the CBI on the sole ground that it had no jurisdiction to investigate into the alleged incident for want of sanction/consent by the Government of West Bengal as mandated under the law. That the petitioner is well within his right to seek for quashing investigation the commencement of investigation by an incompetent officer or an agency without jurisdiction. Reliance is placed upon the State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 SUPP (1) SCC 335”, the plea stated.
The matter is now listed for March 1, 2021 for further hearing.
Case Title: Anup Majee v. The Central Bureau of Investigation
Law Point/ Statute Involved: Section 5 and 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act,1946