November 16, 2008


An INN subscriber 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, to have been involved in the case filed against and subsequently, after nearly a year, judgment and verdict delivered on, CPI (M) leader Suhrid Dutta on the Singur resident Tapasi Malik’s ‘unnatural death.’

The case had been lodged by the CBI, which also led the inquiry as well as the investigation, and the state LF government was not made a party to the case other than having an AOR (‘advocate-on-record’).

At the outset, let us clarify that Suhrid Dutta was accused of ‘criminal conspiracy’ to murder u/s 120B, plus u/s 302 of the IPC, read inter alia with section 164 of the 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 is whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to [a] fine.

CrPc 164 stands for signed record of any confession or statement made to the 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, by- and-large, by the Indian ruling classes.

Let the complexities, comrades and friends, especially our friend up in Delhi, commence from and at this point of time.

Surprise, surprise, the nature, and progression of the conspiracy and the great big fault lines therein, too, appears quite as simple and straightforward as perhaps not expected.

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

Subsequently, Debu also formally retracted the confession in the court of law. There thus remained no direct evidence of any kind. This should have been the end of the matter. However, complexities are lovably clung to always with an end in view and a game plan at hand.

After a test of narcolepsy up in Delhi (was he administered the dreaded and mind-bending ‘truth serum’, sodium pentothal, we have no way of knowing), where Debu who does not speak / understand either English or Hindi, was allegedly not even explained the significance of the long and lugubrious section and several subsections thereof, of 164, allegedly 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. Shall we quote from the law, then, friends, to bolster our case?

Sec 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.’

Permit me readers to quote for once the chapter-and-verse of what is written in sub-section 4 of section 164 of Cr Pc for it will help clear up any fog of indecision yet hovering over the case.

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. [Our emphasis]

Here the linguistic issue we talked of before comes to play a crucial rôle. A somnambulant and befuzzled 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.’ [Any takers on this score, please, anyone?]

This, we hold, is patently a ridiculous statement had Debu even 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.’

We understand the reason why.

The Bengal CPI (M) has decided to move to High Court with its appeal and quite rightly, too.

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. We shall wait. We shall win. By now, we are used to it.

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