The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday directed the West Bengal government to protect witnesses to the violence in West Bengal Birbhum’s district that claimed the lives of eight people, Bar and Bench reported.

Eight people had died on Tuesday after their houses were set on fire following the alleged murder of a panchayat leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress. The bench of Justices Prakash Shrivastava and Rajarshi Bharadwaj had taken suo motu cognisance of the matter.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the court also asked the director general and inspector general of West Bengal Police to consult with the district judge of Purba Bardhaman to ensure that the witnesses are adequately protected, and are not threatened or influenced by anyone.

The prosecution had submitted that the only surviving witness, a 14-year-old minor boy needs protection. The other witness, a woman has already succumbed to her injuries.

The state administration has been asked to produce a case report on the matter by 2 pm on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the advocate general of West Bengal argued that the state government’s investigation should be considered before taking a call on whether to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Opposition parties in West Bengal have alleged that the three-member Special Investigation Team constituted by the state is biased.

The court also ordered that CCTV cameras be installed at the site of the violence, reported Bar and Bench. The footage must be uninterrupted till further orders, said the court. The Central Forensic Science Laboratory has been ordered by the court to inspect the premises as well.

The incident

The violence in Birbhum’s Bogtui village took place on Tuesday following the alleged murder of Bhadu Sheikh, a panchayat leader of the ruling Trinamool Congress. He died after miscreants allegedly hurled bombs at him on Monday night.

Hours later, violence erupted and several houses, including two belonging to the men accused of Sheikh’s murder, were allegedly attacked and set on fire.

The police said women and children were among those killed. Seven charred bodies were recovered from one house alone, while one person died of injuries in a hospital in the district.

On Tuesday, a lawyer named Anindya Kumar Das also filed a public interest litigation seeking inquiry by either the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Investigation Agency into the violence. Das claimed that the state police had failed to control the violence and that the people in the area were at the mercy of local goons.

The West Bengal government has set up a Special Investigation Team, led by Additional Director General of Police (Criminal Investigation Department) Gyanwant Singh, to look into the violence. The inspector-in-charge and sub-divisional police officer of Rampurhat block have also been suspended.

Meanwhile, National Commission for Women chief Rekha Sharma on Wednesday wrote to West Bengal Director General of Police Manoj Malaviya as well as Birbhum Superintendent of Police Nagendra Nath Tripathi, asking them to arrest the accused persons immediately, ANI reported.

“Considering the gravity of the matter, you are requested to personally intervene in the matter and take stringent action,” Sharma said. She asked both the officials to file action taken reports within 24 hours.

Priyank Kanoongo, the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, also said that the panel has taken cognisance of the violence, according to ANI. “We’ve sent a notice to district SP and DGP to send a factual report within 3 days,” Kanoongo said. “We are monitoring the situation and if necessary we will send our team also.”

Governor writes to Mamata Banerjee

Meanwhile, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asking her to uphold the rule of law in accordance with the oath of office that she took.

Dhankhar described the violence as a “shocking carnage” and said that it was justifiably being compared to incidents in the state from the time when Banerjee was a leader of the Opposition in the state.

The governor said that the state police’s special investigation team would have no credibility and that it was being used as a “cover up operation to provide escape route to rogue elements”.

Dhankhar added that there was no credibility to the claim that the violence was possibly a part of a “larger political conspiracy”, saying that this was a ruse to protect the guilty persons. He urged Banerjee to revisit her “confrontational unconstitutional stance”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has sought Banerjee’s resignation due to the violence and called for an investigation by central agencies.

BJP MP from Hooghly Locket Chatterjee claimed that locals told party workers that 20 people were killed in the violence, ANI reported. “But no one knows the actual number because no one is being allowed to enter Birbhum,” she alleged. “There is a need for an independent impartial inquiry into the case. CBI should be handed over the case.”

The Centre has sought a report from the West Bengal government after a delegation of BJP MPs from West Bengal met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and demanded a fair investigation into the violence.