[Sandeshkhali Violence] No Stay on Arrest of TMC Leader Sheikh Shahjahan: Calcutta HC Clarifies

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The division bench made it clear that the arrest of the Trinamool leader was unrestricted and that it had only stayed a single judge's order to establish a special investigation team (SIT) to look into claims that ED officers had been attacked during raids at Shahjahan's home last month

The Calcutta High Court clarified on Monday that it did not issue any order to stay or prevent the arrest of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Sheikh Shahjahan, who faces allegations of land grabbing and sexual assault in Sandeshkhali.

A division bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya clarified that the court had only stayed a single judge's order to constitute a special investigation team (SIT) to probe allegations against Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers who were reportedly attacked during raids at Shahjahan's residence.

The bench emphasized, "We will clarify that there is no stay on arrest. A stay on investigation doesn't mean a stay on arrest. There is an FIR registered, and he is branded as an accused. He will have to be arrested."

The suo motu case initiated by the court, based on media reports alleging sexual abuse of women by TMC members and forced land acquisitions in Sandeshkhali, prompted this clarification.

Despite the court's affirmation that there is no impediment to Shahjahan's arrest, the TMC leader has been made a party in the case.

However, since Shahjahan's whereabouts are unknown, the court has directed the Registry to issue public notices in Bengali and English newspapers for wider dissemination in the district.

The court was hearing a suo motu case initiated in view of media reports that several women in Sandeshkhali were subjected to sexual abuse by TMC members and that the lands of tribals were being forcibly taken away.

The court further clarified that it had only stayed the constitution of the SIT and not Shahjahan's arrest. The clarification was made by the Court today, after the amicus curiae (lawyer assisting the Court) informed the bench that TV channels were reporting that Shahjahan was not being arrested due to a stay by the Court.

Highlighting the urgency of the matter, the court expressed concern that the issues in Sandeshkhali had been festering for four years. It questioned the delay in processing 42 cases into chargesheets and indicated a need for further examination.

Additionally, the court deferred permitting the amicus curiae to visit the area, expressing apprehension that such visits could exacerbate tensions among the villagers.

The next hearing is scheduled for March 4, with the court reiterating its stance that law enforcement must proceed uninhibited by political influence.

In the Sandeshkhali violence, a poultry farm, houses, and offices were vandalised and set on fire. CPIM’s ex-MLA Nirapada Sardar and BJP leader Vikas Singh were arrested in the suo moto case filed by the police.

Sandeshkhali has been in the midst of a turmoil for days as some women sought justice against alleged atrocities committed by TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides.

A significant number of women in Sandeshkhali have accused Trinamool Congress strongman Shajahan Sheikh and his supporters of “land-grab and sexual assault” under coercion. Shahjahan continues to evade arrest, with both state police and central agencies unable to trace him.

Case Title: Court on its own motion v. State of West Bengal