Nearly 2,100 women lawyers in India wrote to Chief Justice Shri NV Ramana on Tuesday urging him to take cognizance of the post-electoral violence in the state of West Bengal by constituting a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to register First Information Reports (FIRs) and investigate the matter.
FIRs are information reports regarding the commission of a cognizable offense given to the police by a victim or any other person having knowledge of such offense. SITs are specialized bodies of police officers trained to investigate serious crimes. They are formed on an ad hoc basis when it is perceived that existing investigative machinery will not be able to conduct a proper investigation.
Over the month, several media reports and eyewitness accounts have reported incidents of murders, rapes, attacks on persons and property, targeting of protected groups such as scheduled castes and tribes, and the forced migration of entire villages in West Bengal.
The women lawyers have alleged that there is a “constitutional crisis” in the state since the beginning of May, with state complicity in the violence such that victims are not able to even register their complaints. They have also demanded protection and compensation for all the victims of violence as well as asked the Chief Justice to order the Director-General of Police in West Bengal to set up an effective complaint mechanism and to file daily reports before the top court.
In a similar vein, nearly 150 retired judges, diplomats, bureaucrats and police officers have written to the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, for setting up an SIT probe into the matter. They have cautioned that these incidents could establish a trend that undermines the democratic tradition in India: “We are greatly disturbed by the mindless instigation of reported violence in electoral vengeance against the people who exercised their democratic right to vote for one political party or the other.”
Under the Indian Constitution, maintaining “law and order” is the state government’s responsibility and during elections, the incumbent government acts as a “caretaker” until a new government takes charge. If the president is satisfied that there is a breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state, he can declare an emergency under Article 356 and place the state under central rule by dismissing the state government. If the Parliament ratifies this order, the elected state assembly is also dissolved.