People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXII

No. 46

November 23, 2008

 

WEST BENGAL

On The Singur Court Case

B Prasant


A FRIEND from Delhi writes to say --- perhaps with a minute but obvious tinge of cynicism --- as to what is the nature of the ‘conspiracy’ that the Bengal CPI(M) in its statement speaks about.

As we know, it was a CPI(M) leader, Suhrid Dutta, against whom a case had been lodged by the CBI, which also led the inquiry as well as the investigation. The state’s Left Front government was not made a party to the case other than having an AOR (‘advocate-on-record’). After nearly a year, a judgement was delivered in this case of ‘unnatural death’ of Tapasi Malik, a Singur resident.

At the outset, let us clarify that Suhrid Dutta was accused of ‘criminal conspiracy’ to murder under section 120B, plus section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), read inter alia with section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its sub-sections. What do the sections mean, signify, and with what fall-outs, sans the legalese involved?

Section 120B reads that whoever is a person involved with a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death can be served with a sentence that involves either the death penalty or imprisonment for life.

Section 302 says that whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to (a) fine.

Section 164 CrPC stands for signed record of any confession or statement made to a magistrate of law in the course of an investigation.

Thus far, everything is simple, straightforward and in keeping with the spirit and law of justice as conceived by our former British colonial masters, and followed since then, by- and-large, by the Indian ruling classes.

The entire case against Suhrid Dutta is based on the ‘secret confession’ under section 164 of ‘one Debu Malik.’ Debu later stood in court to say that he had not made the statement, which, by the interesting way, allegedly does not bear his signature.

Subsequently, Debu formally retracted the confession in the court of law also. There thus remained no direct evidence of any kind. So this should have been the end of the matter.

During a test of narcolepsy up in Delhi where Debu --- who does not speak/understand either English or Hindi --- was allegedly not even explained the significance of the long and tedious section 164 and several subsections thereof. Allegedly, there he neither agreed nor disagreed to whatsoever was read out to him, but the fact is that he did not sign the ‘statement’ which the inquiring magistrate then signed.

Section 164 (1) states: “…the Magistrate shall, before recording any such confession, explain to the person making it that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he does so, it may be used as evidence against him; and the Magistrate shall not record any such confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe that it is bear, made voluntarily.”

Sub-section 4 of Section 164 of CrPC says: Any such confession shall be recorded..… of an accused person and shall be signed by the person making the confession; and the Magistrate shall make a memorandum at the foot of such record to the following effect.

I have explained to (name) that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he does so, any confession he may make may be used as evidence against him and I believe that this confession was voluntarily made. It was taken in my presence and hearing, and was read over to the person making it and admitted by him to be correct, and it contains a full and true account of the statement made by him. (Signed) Magistrate."

Here the linguistic issue we talked of before comes to play a crucial role. Whether a perplexed and nonplussed Debu, recovering from the narcolepsy test, nodded a ‘yes’ or did not, is not the question involved here. The issue is that the magistrate, making the inquiry, signed the ‘statement’ without Debu signing it. The statement ‘said’ that according to Debu, Suhrid Dutta, a much respected leader of the Hooghly CPI(M) and well into his 70s, had allegedly asked him (Debu) to hire goons to kill the late Tapasi as “she was the leader of the anti-small motor car movement at Singur.”

This, we hold, is patently a ridiculous statement --- even if Debu had made it under the circumstances (which, we repeat, he did not.)

The crux of the matter is that in the absence of any specific charge or witnesses, the verdict was given based on ‘circumstantial evidence,’ i.e., Debu’s statement one (a statement that he later formally denied and withdrew).

The CBI called the case the ‘rarest of the rare cases.’

The Bengal CPI(M) has decided to move the High Court with its appeal.

The CPI(M) is a patient lot. We recall the absolving of all charges nearly a decade later of what had been slapped on hundreds of CPI(M) workers in the courts of law over the past decades following sentencing that involved the death penalty. (INN)