The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that the consent of the West Bengal government was not needed to investigate the alleged coal scam in the state, NDTV reported. The agency had earlier questioned Rujira Banerjee, the wife of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee.

The top court was hearing a petition challenging the Calcutta High Court’s order sanctioning the CBI inquiry into the alleged scam. Petitioner Anup Majee, who is also a key accused in the case, had pointed to the timing of the probe as Assembly elections are due in the state by the end of this month. Elections to the 294-seat West Bengal Assembly will be held in eight phases from March 27 to April 29, and the results will be announced on May 2.

The petitioner had also contended that the central probe agency lacked jurisdiction to lodge a first information report in the case after the West Bengal government withdrew its general consent in 2018.

In an affidavit, the CBI said it was duty-bound to carry out the orders of the vigilance commission. The Central Vigilance Commission had directed the CBI to continue the investigation following a complaint by the Eastern Coalfields. The CBI also emphasised that coal-bearing areas were spread across states. “...It is imperative that the larger conspiracy and the inter-state dimension be thoroughly probed by an agency having national jurisdiction, like the Central Bureau of Investigation,” reads the affidavit, according to Times Now.

The probe agency also pointed out that the alleged offence happened in an area that falls under the Railways. Hence, the West Bengal government’s withdrawal of consent for investigation does not matter, said the CBI. The agency argued that it has the powers to investigate employees of the central government and there was no need for consent of the state government.

The case pertains to illegal mining and theft of coal from leasehold mines of Eastern Coalfield Limited in Kunustoria and Kajora areas, and involves embezzlement of thousands of crores of rupees. It has been alleged that this smuggled coal was sold in the black market over a number of years by a racket operating in the western parts of the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged that the kickbacks reached the Trinamool Congress MP through party leader Vinay Mishra. The party’s leaders have also claimed that Abhishek Banerjee channelled these funds into the Trinamool Congress.

In November last year, the central agency had filed a first information report against a person identified as Anup Manjhi, and Eastern Coalfield Limited General Managers Amit Kumar Dhar and Jayesh Chandra Rai. Others named in the FIR included its Chief of Security Tanmay Das, Area Security Inspector Kunustoria Dhananjay Rai and Security in-charge Debashish Mukherjee.

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Illegal mining in Bengal: SC to examine CBI’s jurisdiction in ‘railway areas’ without state consent