Observing that Birbhum killings, earlier this week, have shaken the conscience of society, the Calcutta High Court today directed the CBI to take over the investigation into the case from the state police and submit a progress report before it on the next date of hearing.

The Court, which registered a suo motu petition in the case on Wednesday, said that facts and circumstances demand that the investigation be handed over to the CBI in the interest of justice and also to instill confidence in the society.

"We direct the CBI to forthwith take over the investigation in the case and submit the progress report before us on the next date of hearing," the court said in its order.

The matter will be heard again by the court on April 7.

Miscreants had on March 21 set 10 houses on fire in Bogtui village of Bengal's Birbhum district, killing at least eight people, including women and children.

Noting that the incident had a "nationwide ramification", a Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava asked the Bengal government to extend full cooperation to the central agency.

Directing the state police or the government-appointed SIT not to hold any further investigation in the matter, the bench ordered that the all documents as well as the accused and suspects arrested in the case by the West Bengal Police be handed over to the central probe agency.

"We are of the opinion that the investigation as expected, keeping in view the gravity of the offence, has not been done," the court said, without divulging details of the shortcomings in the SIT probe.

The Bench said that after minutely examining the case diary of the matter, it found that though the SIT was constituted on March 22, "till now there is no effective contribution of the SIT in the investigation".

Asserting that expeditious steps are required to be taken to hand over the probe to an independent investigating agency because there was allegation of an attempt to wipe off evidence, the court said it took note of the submission by Additional Solicitor General Y J Dastur, representing the agency, that the CBI had no difficulty in doing the investigation.

Apart from the suo motu case, five PILs seeking order for investigation by an independent agency were heard by the Court.

The Bench had on Wednesday directed Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory (CFSL), Delhi, to collect samples for forensic examination from the place of occurrence of the heinous crime in Bogtui village.

The DGP of the state police had on Tuesday told a press meet that the fire in the houses had started within an hour of the murder of TMC panchayat official Bhadu Sheikh.

It was submitted by one of the petitioners that that police station was very near to the spot of incident, but no officer reached on time and people trapped inside the burning houses found no help.

The Bench noted in its order that the petitioners alleged that the incident had taken place at the instance of hooligans associated with the ruling party in the state and that even the fire brigade personnel were stopped from entering the village.

Apprehension was expressed by a petitioner that the investigation by SIT would be done only to cover up the issue instead of finding the culprits or unearthing the truth.

The petitioners also doubted the independence and impartiality of the head of the SIT, Gyanwant Singh, who is the Additional Director General (CID) of the state police.

The Court said that the suo motu petition had been registered to ensure fair investigation.

Counsel for the petitioners said that the state investigating agencies were not carrying out the probe properly and it was necessary that justice be done to the families of the victims.

Opposing the prayers, West Bengal Advocate General S N Mookherjee submitted that the SIT formed by the government had been doing the needful and arrests too have been made in the case.

With PTI inputs