Calcutta High Court orders arrest of TMC leader Shahjahan Sheikh in Sandeshkhali case

Shahjahan Sheikh

Kolkata: The riverine Sandeshkhali area, situated about 100 kilometres from Kolkata on the borders of the Sunderbans, has been witnessing protests since the first week of February over allegations of sexual atrocities and land grabs by local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders. One of the key accused, Shahjahan Sheikh, has been absconding since a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials, who had gone to search his premises in Sandeshkhali in connection with a corruption case, on January 5. Two of his associates, Shiba Prasad Hajra and Uttam Sardar, were arrested by the ED.

Court’s intervention

The Calcutta High Court on Monday added Shahjahan Sheikh as a respondent in a suo-motu case registered by the court, taking cognizance of the media reports on the Sandeshkhali issue. The high court said there was no order stopping Bengal Police from arresting Sheikh, who is the main accused in the sexual assault and land grab allegations.

When Additional Solicitor General Asok Kumar Chakrabarti requested the court to clarify if there was any stay on Shahjahan’s arrest, the Chief Justice said, “There is no stay order in Sandeshkhali cases. We clarify that there is no stay on his arrest. A stay on investigation doesn’t mean a stay on arrest. There is an FIR registered and he has been branded as an accused. Bengal Police has to arrest him.”

The court also asked the registry department to issue a public notice about the development as Sheikh is untraceable.

Governor’s reaction

Responding to the latest developments in the Sandeshkhali issue, West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose said, “It is a momentous statement. It means the culprit has to be arrested and no excuse can be made now.”

He added, “In a democracy, there is a process of governance and the court has a place. We have to respect it. As a governor, I also say that the arrest has to be made immediately.”

Police action

Earlier in the day, after getting over 70 complaints from the villagers of Sandeshkhali, the police lodged a fresh FIR against the absconding TMC leader and prime accused in the matter.

Most of the complainants claimed that Sheikh was actively involved in the forcible acquisition of their land and torturing of local women, the police officer said. Angry villagers had attacked Maity, a local TMC leader, a couple of days back for his alleged ties with Sheikh and his group, accused of land grabbing and sexual assault on local women.

Speaking to news agency ANI on the matter, Basirhat SP HM Rehman said, “We have got complaints against him. We are going through the complaints and will take action accordingly. We have filed an FIR against Sheikh Shahjahan.”

Villagers’ protest

Meanwhile, angry villagers of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas continued their protests and vandalised the houses of local TMC leaders, including Shankar Sardar.

Shahjahan Sheikh

The Basirhat SP said, “Today, some women barged into the residence of Shankar Sardar. The police force responded immediately and detained some people. We have been telling the people of Sandeshkhali to not take the law into their hands otherwise legal action will be taken by police.”