Sandeshkhali: Calcutta HC Questions State Govt Over Failure to Apprehend TMC Leader Shahjahan Sheikh

Shahjahan Sheikh

The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday raised concerns with the State of West Bengal regarding its failure to apprehend Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Shajahan Sheikh, who has been evading arrest since his supporters attacked an Enforcement Directorate (ED) team during a raid on his residence.

A bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya labeled Sheikh as the “root cause” of the ongoing issues in North 24 Parganas district’s Sandeshkhali, where allegations of land usurpation and sexual misconduct have emerged.

The Court remarked, “This individual, purported to be the orchestrator of the entire incident, remains at large. If he is flouting the law, it is evident that the government should not be sheltering him.” However, State Advocate General Kishore Datta countered, asserting that the State was not backing the absconding TMC leader.

These developments transpired during proceedings related to West Bengal Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari’s proposed visit to Sandeshkhali, which was sanctioned by the division bench. Justice Sivagnanam also informed the attorneys that the court would address the suo motu case concerning allegations of sexual assault and land appropriation.

Regarding the situation in Sandeshkhali, Justice Sivagnanam emphasized that Sheikh, being a former member of the Zila Parishad, should step forward to address the accusations against him. The Court stated, “As a public representative, we will summon him to appear before this Court in the suo motu case. He cannot defy the law. Let him present himself before this Court.”

Furthermore, the Court cautioned against State endorsement of Sheikh, given prima facie evidence suggesting his detrimental impact on public welfare. It remarked, “A single individual should not hold the entire populace hostage. The State administration should not support such an individual, as per our preliminary assessment.”

While acknowledging uncertainty regarding Sheikh’s protection, the Court also noted the State police’s failure to apprehend him. It speculated on potential reasons for this failure, suggesting either a lack of capability or Sheikh’s evasion beyond their jurisdiction.

Additionally, the Court criticized the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to restrict public movement, deeming it counterproductive in Sandeshkhali. It stressed the necessity for the State of West Bengal to adopt a broader perspective in addressing the issue.

The Court scheduled the next hearing for February 26, 2024.

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About the Author: Nunnem Gangte