On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine whether the (CBI) could investigate a coal smuggling case in which a notice has been served to Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee’s wife.

Apart from Abhishek’s wife Rujira Banerjee, the agency also served a notice on his sister-in-law Maneka Gambhir. CBI officials on Monday questioned Gambhir at her residence in Kolkata.

The top court decided to ascertain the validity of a February 12 order of the Calcutta high court which permitted the CBI to continue its probe in the state despite the chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led state government, in November 2018, withdrawing general consent to the agency for carrying out probes in West Bengal.

The Calcutta HC order was passed ny its division bench on the appeals filed by the CBI and Anup Majee, an accused in the case, who has now filed a petition in the apex court.

The bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah issued a Notice to the CBI on the question whether these petitions before the division bench were legally maintainable and if the high court could pass the order on the CBI probe.

During the hearing, the West Bengal government, through senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, disputed the CBI’s jurisdiction, saying that the state was contemplating to file an appeal in the apex court to challenge the order on the CBI probe.

Singhvi pointed out that the state government withdrew consent for the CBI to investigate in West Bengal in November 2018, and hence the agency could not carry out its probe in this case.

Majee, director of a private company has been named as an accused in the case lodged in November 2020 of corruption and criminal breach of trust with regard to illegal mining and pilferage of coal from leasehold area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) in certain parts of West Bengal. ECL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coal India Ltd, a Public Sector Undertaking.

Majee, in his petition filed through advocate Jaikriti S Jadeja, challenged the HC order on the ground that the accusations related to transportation of the illegally extracted coal from West Bengal to other states, besides illegal mining in the “railway areas”, which is under the union government.

Appearing for Majee, senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi contended: “The entire case is politically motivated. I have also been summoned by the Enforcement Directorate…The question of CBI’s authority must be determined.”

Singhvi supported Rohatgi “on the point of law”. “Why should the CBI come and investigate after the withdrawal of consent by the state government? We are already looking into this case and the state police is competent of investigation,” he said.

The bench sought to know from the senior lawyers about any specific rule that allowed order of a single judge to be challenged before a division bench in the Calcutta high court since such intra-court appeals in criminal cases were disallowed in other high courts.

Rohatgi replied that the division bench could not have heard an appeal against the single judge’s order but since both his client and CBI had gone to the division bench, the petition was now moved before the Supreme Court to protect his client from arrest.

However, the bench said no interim order on protection from arrest could be passed without hearing the CBI on the point whether the petitions before the division bench of the high court were maintainable or not. The court then issued a notice to the CBI, calling upon the agency to make submissions on March 1.

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