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EC Transfers Kolkata Police Chief, 3 Others; Opposition Welcomes Move

Two of the removed police officers were considered close to Mamata Banerjee and were seen at the site of her sit-in in early February, which was denied by the CM.
EC Transfers Kolkata Police Chief

Kolkata: The Election Commission's decision on Friday night to transfer and bar from poll duty four West Bengal IPS officers, including Kolkata Police Commissioner, Anuj Sharma, seemingly followed repeated complaints from opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front against the "partisan" attitude of a section of police officers in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

The opposition parties had been regularly calling on the EC, both in Kolkata and New Delhi, with demands for the removal of officers "listening to only the Trinamool Congress and turning a blind eye to the complaints lodged by the opposition parties".

While the EC order is being interpreted as its way of giving a stern message to the police and the bureaucracy to work with complete impartiality, it is also a fact that the removed city top cops, Sharma and Bidhannagar Commissioner, Gyanwant Singh -- both considered close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee- - were seen at the site of her sit-in here in early February.

Banerjee had resorted to the sit-in following a face-off between the Central Bureau of Investigation and the city police over the central agency's attempts to interrogate then Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar in a chit fund probe.

However, Banerjee had then denied their presence at the stage of the sit-in and explained that they had merely gone to give her protection when the platform was being built.

It has proved to be a short tenure for Sharma at the helm of the city police, as he was appointed only on February 19, replacing Kumar. The latter was due for transfer ahead of the polls in accordance with an EC directive that any officer completing three years in the same place cannot continue there if the person has to be tasked with election duties.

The BJP had also complained to the EC about Singh in the wake of the customs authority's allegations of police interference to prevent them from checking the baggage of Rujira Narula, wife of Trinamool Congress MP and Mamata Banerjee's nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport three weeks back.

Rajesh Kumar, a 1990 batch IPS officer, would be the new Kolkata Police Commissioner. He was till now ADG & IGP, Pollution Control Board. Natarajan Ramesh Babu, ADG and IGP, Operations, from the 1991 batch, would replace Gyanwant Singh.

The two other IPS officers shunted out by the EC are Birbhum police superintendent, Shyam Singh, and Diamond Harbour police superintendent, P.S. Selvamurugan.

Birbhum, in recent years, has turned into one of the most politically volatile districts, witnessing a series of clashes between political parties, leaving a number of activists dead, injured and homeless.

The inflammatory statements of Birbhum district Trinamool Congress chief Anubrata Mondal -- at various times going to the extent of asking party workers to "bomb the police", set fire to opponents' houses and ensure opposition parties do not put up agents in polling booths -- has not helped matters. The situation became such that during the 2016 Assembly polls, the Election Commission kept Mondal under 24-hour watch ahead of the election.

Selvamurugan is understood to have attracted EC glare after it received complaints of harassment of estranged Trinamool leader Sovan Chatterjee and his companions by a mob purportedly comprising Trinamool men at Raichak.

Besides, Abhishek Banerjee is the Trinamool candidate from the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency.

Avanyu Rabindranath and Srihari Pande would be the new police superintendents of Birbhum and Diamond Harbour, respectively.

While the Trinamool is yet to react to the developments, the Chief Minister is likely to spell out her mind on the developments during her twin meetings in Alipurduar on Saturday.

The opposition parties welcomed the transfers.

"This step was needed for ensuring free and fair elections. That's why the poll panel has resorted to this drastic measure. Some of them were seen at the Chief Minister's sit-in. Gyanwant Singh had argued with the customs authorities at the airport over the so-called harassment of Abhishek Banerjee's wife," said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh.

Leader of the Left Front legislature party Sujan Chakraborty said the rule of law has ceased to exist in West Bengal. "When she started her sit-in, it was seen that the entire administration had hit the streets.

"Such an administration cannot conduct impartial polls. I would ask the other officers not to endanger their careers by licking the boots of the rulers. Show respect to your uniform. If you don't, people will not spare you. We will also go to the EC," he added.

Congress Rajya Sabha member and former state chief Pradip Bhattacharya said some officers were acting at the behest of the ruling party, and hoped strong action would also be taken against some other IPS officers.

"Some IPS and IAS officers are working as per their whims. They are partisan in their approach. They are acting as agents of the ruling party. We had complained against the SPs of Raiganj and Malda. We hope the Election Commission will consider these complaints too positively," said Bhattacharya.

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