SC notice to Bengal govt over ‘harassment’ of officials who checked Mamata kin’s bags

Appearing for the state government, Senior Advocate Abhishek M Singhvi questioned the locus standi of the petitioner and objected to the issuance of the notice.

"We want to get to the root of the matter…We want to know what is happening in West Bengal."

The remarks came from a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Friday as it issued a notice to the state government on a petition by a customs official. The official has alleged intimidation by state police while checking the baggage of the wife of Trinamool Congress MP and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata on March 15 night.

"Someone has drawn our attention to something very very serious. We don't know yet whose claim is bona fide but we would like to go into the root of the matter," the bench observed.

Appearing for the petitioner Rajkumar Barthwal, a Member of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the plea was in reference to the incidents at the Kolkata airport.

Appearing for the state government, Senior Advocate Abhishek M Singhvi questioned the locus standi of the petitioner and objected to the issuance of the notice. But the court turned down his objections and remarked that it does not know the bona fide of the petitioner but "we cannot ignore what is going on in West Bengal". The bench added that if needed, "we can ourselves take suo motu cognizance".

The petition said that "subjects including customs, carriage of passengers by air, airways, immigration, passports, visa, citizenship, excise, income tax, defence, etc, fall within the exclusive domain of the Centre. However, officers of the West Bengal police posted at the Police station, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, acting at the behest of the wife of a sitting Member of Parliament, who is the nephew of the present Hon'ble Chief Minister of West Bengal impinged upon the said exclusive domain of the central government in the intervening night of 15/16.03.2019".

The petition added that this infringement was done by "preventing" customs officials "from checking bags, passports and boarding passes of two lady passengers travelling from Bangkok as Thai citizens". It added that "one of these lady passengers, Ms Rujira Naroola, was later discovered to be wife of MP Shri Abhishek Banerjee, who is the nephew of the present Chief Minister of West Bengal".

State police personnel entered into the prohibited area of the airport red channel, which is protected by CISF, without any authority, the plea said.

Customs officials were threatened with dire consequences, including arrest, if VIPs or their relatives are stopped for checking, the plea said. It added that though a police complaint was lodged in this regard, "no action has yet been taken".

The plea said "such infarction of the Basic Structure of the Constitution if allowed to be continued, will result in constitutional anarchy, particularly in view of various recent examples including the experience of the CBI in the Saradha Chit Fund scam".