The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a plea challenging the Calcutta High Court order which allowed the CBI to investigate a case of alleged illegal mining and transportation of coal in West Bengal without the State’s consent.
The top court also refused to grant protection to Anup Majee, the director of a company engaged in purchase and sale of the dry fuel, who is accused in a case of alleged illegal coal trading in the Asansol-Raniganj belt of West Bengal.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and M R Shah issued notice to Centre and CBI and sought their response by March 1 on the plea, which claimed that the central probe agency lacked jurisdiction to lodge an FIR in the case after the withdrawal of general consent by the State government in 2018.
During the hearing, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Majee said the CBI’s appeal before the division bench of the high court was not maintainable and therefore the order passed on February 12, was without any jurisdiction.
He said that the order of a single judge bench of February 3, was not appealable as it was passed under criminal jurisdiction.
The bench said that it will have to look at the rules of appellate side of the High Court and asked Rohatgi about the nature of proceedings before the single judge.
Rohatgi replied that it was for quashing of FIR lodged by the CBI against the petitioner and others.
Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for West Bengal government, said that he supports the contention of Majee on the question of law as there was no consent given to the CBI to investigate the case after West Bengal withdrew its general consent.
The bench said that since both the State and petitioner are aggrieved, notice needs to be issued to CBI and the concerned parties need to be heard at length on the issue.
It asked Rohatgi what are the appellate rules of the Calcutta High Court to which he said that no rules empowers that appeal of criminal jurisdiction be filed and it has been clarified by various verdicts of the court.
He said that allegation against Majee is that he is involved in illegal coal mining but all these averments are politically motivated.
Rohatgi sought protection from any coercive action for two weeks claiming that he may be arrested on Tuesday as he has also been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate.
The bench said that nothing would happen to him at this time and refused to pass any order granting protection from any coercive action.
On February 12, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court had stayed a single bench order that had restricted a CBI investigation into alleged illegal mining and transportation of coal to just “railway areas” of the state and rejected the plea of Majee for grant of protection from any coercive action against him.
It has been observed that if the process of investigation is stalled at this stage, material evidence which may have to be collected can get lost and the accused may be able to achieve the objective for which “frivolous litigation” has been filed.
It had noted that the case pertains to illegal mining and transportation of coal through railways in connivance with officers of the Eastern Coalfield Limited, the CISF and some individuals, including petitioner Majee.
The High Court had said that the process of investigation against other accused arrayed in the FIR will also get jeopardised.
It stayed the February 3 single bench order that said that the CBI is authorised to continue its investigation in respect of the FIR “within the railway areas” situated in West Bengal.
West Bengal government had contended that since permission to the CBI to carry out any probe in the state was withdrawn on November 16, 2018, no investigation for offences committed within its territorial jurisdiction can be conducted by the central agency.
CBI had submitted before the High Court that even if the state has withdrawn the consent for investigation of the cases by the CBI, the same cannot be withdrawn with reference to the railway areas.
The CBI is probing the alleged illegal trading of coal in the State and Majee is the director of a company engaged in purchase and sale of the dry fuel.
On February 3, the single judge bench of the High Court had said that the CBI is not authorised to conduct physical raids or active investigation into other areas of West Bengal than the railway areas as defined under the Railways Act.
It had, however, said that the Central probe agency can summon and interrogate witnesses residing in the state, even in places other than railway areas for the purpose of investigation.
The court had directed that the CBI can conduct investigation pertaining to the FIR in places beyond the railway areas “subject to specific consent being granted by appropriate authorities of the state of West Bengal”.
The CBI on November 28 last year carried out a massive search operation in a number of locations in four states — West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh – after registering a case against Majee.
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