Curbs on CBI's power to operate in states reasonable

Curbs on CBI's power to operate in states reasonable

The CBI is known to be a "caged parrot", as described by the Supreme Court, and is at the service of the Centre

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) logo at CBI HQ, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI File Photo

The CBI’s complaint to the Supreme Court about the decision of some state governments to withdraw the general consent for a probe by the agency in their territory has brought the focus again on the states’ powers vis-a-vis the central agency. The CBI told the court that the withdrawal of general consent by some states was proving detrimental to the investigation and prosecution of cases.

The Central government has supported the CBI’s position by telling the court that the states’ power to withdraw consent is not absolute. The matter came up before the court as part of a petition filed by the West Bengal government against the CBI. Presently eight states, including West Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala, have withdrawn their general consent to the CBI under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPEA) which governs the agency. After a state withdraws its general consent, the CBI can investigate cases there only on its request in a specific case or on the orders of a court. 

This is an important federal provision that protects the powers of the states and prevents the Centre from arbitrarily using its powers. Policing is a state subject and so the restrictions on the power of the CBI to operate in states are reasonable and in conformity with federal norms. The CBI is known to be a "caged parrot", as described by the Supreme Court, and is at the service of the Centre. There are umpteen cases of misuse of the CBI by the Centre.

It is deployed to harass opposition politicians, to give trouble to the governments of opposition parties and to aid the ruling party at the Centre. Some recent cases are the arrest and harassment of former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the take-over of the Sushant Singh murder case, cases against some Trinamool Congress ministers and leaders in West Bengal and against NCP leaders in Maharashtra, and the booking of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on cheating and corruption charges. There are many other raids and actions too. 

The states which have withdrawn their general consent are all ruled by non-BJP parties and it is clear that they did this to shield themselves against misuse of the CBI by the Centre. It is a power bestowed on them by law, and the pervasive misuse of the CBI by the Centre has only strengthened the need for the provision. It is part of the checks and balances in the federal system of governance. The Central government and the CBI have only themselves to blame for the states’ lack of trust in them. States cannot be expected to forgo a legal and legitimate power they have, and cannot be blamed for exercising it.

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