In balmy Kolkata, a top cop is Kung Fu fighting officers of the CBI who are on his tail for nearly eight months. One day he is at a book fair, the next day he is not. The other day he is at the cigar room of a plush club, the next day he is gone with the wind. His friends in Kolkata Police are even detaining officers of the CBI who went to his house in search of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar.
True to the lyrics of the 1974 chartbuster by Jamaican vocalist Carl Douglas with production by British Indian musician Biddu, Kumar is doing everything with expert timing.
Kumar, a fitness freak who once won a 11 km race with ease and has a treadmill in his office, is now on the run from the CBI.
There are charges against him that he destroyed crucial evidence linking politicians to Ponzi Scheme owners in the state? It means he has virtually saved members of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress from being implicated in the billion-dollar scandal. The charges assume importance because Kumar was the one who led a Special Investigation Team of West Bengal Police probing the scams. And he has to be questioned regarding missing documents and files but he is not responding to notices to appear before the agency. Kumar, a 1989 batch IPS officer of West Bengal cadre, did not even attend a meeting with Election Commission officials who had gone to Kolkata to meet him regarding election preparedness.
There are high chances that the CBI might arrest him as the last resort.
Let’s see what’s on the table from the CBI. The country’s premier investigating agency claims three people questioned by them – two have been arrested – were on the basis of statements made by Ponzi fund owners like scheme Anukul Maity of I-Core, Gautam Kundu of Rose Valley and Sudip Sen. The troika has told the CBI that crucial documents of their cash transactions with TMC politicians were collected by Kumar and destroyed.
The figures are huge. The cumulative deposits of the big four — Rose Valley, Saradha, I-Core and MPS groups — run in excess of Rs. 20,000 crore. A list submitted in Parliament by Congress MP Sachin Pilot said 73 of the 87 major chit funds were functioning in Bengal. Yet, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee told a recent public rally that the Chit Fund scams were a legacy of the Left Front and her party had nothing to do with it. And if one takes the total estimates of the public deposits, its to the tune of Rs 75,000 crore, which is almost 20% of Bengal’s total debt of Rs. 1.49 lakh crore as on March 31, 2017-18. Many in Kolkata say the actual figure could be higher because the figure of Rs. 75,000 crore has been calculated on the basis of wired or cheque transactions or receipts.
And a large chunk of the evidence, claims CBI, has been destroyed by Kumar to save dubious politicians. The CBI is finding it difficult to connect the dots minus the papers. The politicians could slip away with ease. Its like a 100 Harshad Mehtas getting a clean chit.
Kumar was once close to the ruling Left Front and hobnobbed with the then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. He was then accused by Mamata Banerjee for allegedly snooping on Opposition leaders. But he grew close to Banerjee when he was the commissioner of Bidhannagar police. It was during his term in Salt Lake that the Saradha scam broke and Bengal Police were accused of going slow on the probe, despite written statements offered by Ponzi firm owners. He even stopped his men from arresting politicians. The CBI sensed something was wrong, so did the SFIO.
When TMC swept the polls in 2009, he switched his allegiance to Banerjee and grew close to the CM. Kumar knew how the state government machinery functions. His wife, an Indian Revenue Service officer, often filled him up with “useful information”.
For months now, the buzz around the precinct had been pointing to Kumar as the possible destructor of evidence. There was no doubt he was doing it after instructions from the top. Kumar, considered one of the tech-savvy police officers in Kolkata, even allegedly imported gadgets from Israel to keep a tab on officers who were leaking sensitive information to the media. He was no longer outgoing and chatty, always on the edge with a bit of fear, say those who worked with him at the time.
And then, the CBI came calling, news of Kumar being close to TMC reached the Election Commission. Just before the 2016 state elections, Kumar was replaced by the Election Commission with Soumen Mitra on April 13, 2016 Both the Congress and BJP had demanded Kumar’s removal because of his alleged proximity to CM Mamata Banerjee. But the moment TMC retained power in the state, Kumar was back as the Kolkata Police Commissioner on May 21, 2016.
Once he was back in the seat, Kumar went on an aggressive. He wrote to two CBI officers, asking them how they could question him. Kumar also arrested Manoj Kumar, an ED official. It sent a wrong signal to the investigating agencies.
But two quick arrests of top editor Suman Chattopadhyay and big time film producer and distributor Shrikant Mohta rattled many in Kolkata, so did the CBI’s questioning of Manik Majumdar, a long time personal assistant of the CM . Kumar he couldn’t shake the sorry image of himself being led away by the CBI. He often cursed himself in the office and told his friends he could even turn an approver and spill the beans on the big bucks Ponzi scams. “I think I’m in trouble,” he told his friends.
He knew he broke the very laws he was sworn to uphold, Kumar knew the damage he did to public trust of Kolkata Police – still fondly compared with the Scotland Yard by many in the city – was like violating a cardinal rule. Many feel the arrest of Kumar, if it eventually happens, could be the darkest moment in city’s police history. In Kolkata, many say Kumar has pulled back into a shell of sadness and shame, no one is talking to him.
Being lonely, and in hiding is not good news for any cop, especially if you are the Police Commissioner of a politically-sensitive city like Kolkata.
This story by Shantanu Gura Ray was first reported here