Kolkata, March 18: In the face of massive protests over the brutal gang-rape of a septuagenarian nun inside a convent, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced she would "entrust the investigation" to the CBI, hours after a high-level Catholic delegation visited the spot and demanded "visible" action including arrest of the culprits.
Banerjee's announcement on Twitter and Facebook came over five days after the gruesome incident, that has caused revulsion across the country and beyond.
Despite releasing images from CCTV footage of four of the purported criminals, police detained 10 people but were unable to arrest even one of the culprits, who raided the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Nadia district's Ranaghat, some 80 km from Kolkata, on March 14 and gang-raped the 71-year-old Sister Superior.
Earlier in the day, the National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognizance of the incident and shot off separate notice to the state chief secretary and director general of police, calling for reports within two weeks.
Banerjee said she decided to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation considering its "seriousness and sensitivity".
"The Ranaghat incident of March 14, 2015 is a very serious matter. The police administration was instructed to take swift action to nab the culprits. They are making their best efforts.
"Considering the seriousness and sensitivity of the case and also the fact that the place of incidence is very close to the border area, I have decided to entrust investigation of the case to CBI," Banerjee said, and promised that her government will provide all "necessary cooperation and assistance" to the federal agency.
Interestingly, Banerjee had on Monday condemned protesters in Ranaghat, who had blocked her convoy seeking a CBI probe and expressing anger over police failure to arrest any of the culprits.
"Those who are shouting 'CBI, CBI' and trying to play politics over rape, I condemn you," the chief minister had said after her convoy was stranded for over an hour when she came out of the hospital where the victim was under treatment.
The Banerjee government has also over the past months spewed venom on the CBI and organised road protests against it after the probe agency arrested and quizzed several Trinamool Congress leaders in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam.
Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said the decision to hand over the case to the CBI was taken as the police had "some limitations".
"It may well be that the criminals have gone elsewhere. If they have gone to some other states or another country, the CBI can take proper action, because it operates on a wider periphery," the minister told the media.
On Wednesday morning, a two-member team of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) went to Ranaghat, met the brutalised nun and other sisters of the convent, besides the students and took stock of the happenings. They also visited the crime scene.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, who heads the CBCI, said they wanted swift action from the chief minister.
"I would like to request the authorities to ensure that justice is done. The sisters have forgiven but justice needs to be made visible and such acts should not continue.
"We are here to also personally verify what has happened. These same sentiments I will transmit to the chief minister and request her to act fast. Such inhuman act should be stopped," Cleemis told the media.
He met the chief minister at the state secretariar Nabanna late in the afternoon.
"What I have understood is that the process has begun to find out the culprits but we would like to request the chief minister to make a fast approach and to see that justice is done at the earliest," Cleemis said in the morning.
Iterating the Catholic Church's commitment "with more fervour", Cleemis asserted "we are not stopped by such events and such violations".
He also thanked the public in Ranaghat and "the public of the entire country who are showing their sympathy and their sentiments of togetherness at this point of time".
"We prayed together and we prayed for everyone. She has forgiven (the culprits) and prays for them. We have forgiven but justice has to be brought to the people," he said.
Archbishop of Kolkata Thomas D'Souza expressed happiness over the government handing over the probe to the CBI.
"In a way we are happy that the government is taking steps to nab the culprits," D'Souza said.
However, the opposition parties said Banerjee had to bow down to the people's protest.
"Has CBI agreed to probe d Nun rape?" tweeted Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary S.K. Mishra, who demanded action against police for "sleeping over" complaints of attacks on the convent a week before the rape.
Throughout Wednesday, Kolkata continued to be rocked by protests over the Ranaghat crime. The Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morcha took out a march to the secretariat, while the Left Front's women activists organised a silent protest rally from College Square to Esplanade.
The Left parties also held a candlelight vigil in the city.