The Calcutta High Court on Monday observed that the violence in Howrah district during Ram Navami festivities appears to have been planned and that there was a failure of intelligence gathering by the West Bengal police, reported Bar and Bench.
“There are allegations of stones being hurled from rooftops,” Acting Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam said. “Obviously, it is not possible for anyone to take stones up to the rooftop within 10 to 15 minutes.”
The court made the observation as it reserved its order on a plea filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari seeking a probe by the National Investigation Agency into the violence.
On March 30, several vehicles were set ablaze and shops were vandalised in parts of Howrah during a clash between Hindus and Muslims during a Ram Navami procession. Videos on social media showed men throwing stones and tearing down shops as the police tried to bring the situation under control.
A day later, a fresh flare-up was reported in the district’s Shibpur area after a mob went on the rampage, throwing stones and attacking shops as well as vehicles.
During Monday’s hearing, the court observed that the police had to disburse the crowd using pellet guns and fire tear gas shells, which indicates the violence was large-scale, Live Law reported.
“...within 4-5 months, the state has got 8 orders of the High Court and all these matters concern violence during religious events,” the bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, said. “Is it incapacity of police, or failure of intelligence, sensitisation of the officers at the lower level, what is it?”
Advocate General SN Mookherjee, appearing for the state, opposed an inquiry by the National Investigation Agency and said that the West Bengal police were already looking into the Ram Navami violence.
Mookherjee also said that the participants in the Ram Navami procession were armed with lathis and swords, which they were not allowed to carry. Muslims also carried weapons, he added.
Additional Solicitor General Ashoke Kumar Chakraborty, appearing for the Centre, claimed that if explosives were used and blasts were reported during the violence, then it automatically attracts the provisions of the National Investigation Act, according to Bar and Bench.
This, however, was rejected by Mookherjee, who said that allegations of explosives being used or houses set on fire are totally baseless.
BJP sending fact-finding team to incite violence: CM
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday questioned the credibility of a fact-finding team that submitted an interim report on the violence to Governor CV Ananda Bose, ANI reported. She said that the situation in West Bengal is now normal and alleged that the BJP sent the fact-finding team to incite violence.
The panel, led by former Patna High Court Chief Justice L Narasimha Reddy, said that the violence on March 30 was planned and orchestrated. It alleged that a “grossly inflammatory speech” by the chief minister was the trigger for the violence.
The committee said that ahead of Ram Navami, Banerjee said in a speech that the authorities would take serious action against any procession that passed through Muslim areas. After the committee submitted its report, Justice (Retd) Reddy said that the governor assured the panel members that he would look into it.
Banerjee, however, asked what the need was for a fact-finding team when the situation had returned to normal. She also questioned who authorised the committee, NDTV reported.
“You tell me whether it is a fact-finding committee authorised by the Supreme Court or High Court,” the chief minister told reporters. “Or is it from the government, or is it from the party?If it has been authenticated by the party, it is of no value.”
Banerjee claimed that those who engaged in violence had been brought in from Bihar’s Munger district.
She questioned why some of those who took part in the procession brought arms and bulldozers, according to NDTV. “With whose permission?” she asked. “All of this is illegal.”