West Bengal police ‘overreach’ their powers, SC and EC keeping an eye

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Published: April 17, 2019 12:08:13 AM

The case pertains to an assistant commissioner of customs (a central government employee) writing to the inspector in charge of the airport police station to file an FIR—for obstruction and criminal intimidation—against the West Bengal police.

A two-judge bench of the SC fined the West Bengal government Rs 20 lakh for preventing the release of the movie, Bhobishyoter Bhoot.A two-judge bench of the SC fined the West Bengal government Rs 20 lakh for preventing the release of the movie, Bhobishyoter Bhoot.

Differences between state governments, such as the one in West Bengal, and the Central government are not new; indeed, when the Election Commission (EC) transferred one of the state’s superintendents of police ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Trinamool Congress said this was arbitrary and motivated, and alleged that this was done at the behest of the BJP. But you know this is not a routine fight when, in another case, the Supreme Court (SC) is constrained to say that something very serious seems to be going on in West Bengal. The case pertains to an assistant commissioner of customs (a central government employee) writing to the inspector in charge of the airport police station to file an FIR—for obstruction and criminal intimidation—against the West Bengal police. It appears that while customs officials inspected the baggage of two persons—one of them was the wife of a Trinamool Congress MP—the police entered the airport and tried to intimidate officials by threatening them with arrest. The state police being accused of intimidating Central government officers is a serious issue and, as the SC said, needs to be fully investigated.

And the day before this, a two-judge bench of the SC fined the West Bengal government Rs 20 lakh for preventing the release of the movie, Bhobishyoter Bhoot. In this case, though the movie had been cleared by the censors, the intelligence unit of the Kolkata police asked for a private screening on grounds that the police had got inputs saying the film could hurt public sentiments and that could lead to law and order issues. When the movie was released, pressure from the police led to it being pulled out from theatres—a letter from INOX to the film’s producer said it was directed to do so by the authorities. Which is why, the SC observed, “in the present case, the West Bengal police have overreached their statutory powers and have become instruments in a concerted attempt to silence speech, suborn views critical of prevailing cultures and threaten law-abiding citizens into submission”. The SC called this an “unconstitutional attempt to invade the fundamental rights of the producers, the actors and the audience… by making an example out of them, there has been an attempt to silence criticism and critique”. With constitutional bodies like the EC and the SC keeping an eye on events in the state—especially poll-related violence—hopefully such high-handedness will come to a halt, even if temporarily.

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