Do not use CBI to bury truth, federalism

Do not use CBI to bury truth, federalism

CBI office in RT Nagar in Bengaluru. Credit: DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar

Maharashtra is the latest state, after Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and West Bengal, to withdraw the general consent given to the CBI to investigate cases in their territory. Kerala, which has questioned in the high court the takeover of a case in the state by the CBI, is also considering withdrawing its general consent. These states have the common grievance that the agency acts at the behest of the central government and allows itself to be used as a political tool against them. The Maharashtra government’s decision seems to have been prompted by the suspicion that the CBI may take over a case about the manipulation of TV viewership which the state police is investigating, as it happened in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Just as the Patna police filed an FIR in the Rajput case, an FIR was filed last week by the UP police in Lucknow for alleged TRP manipulation on a complaint by a person who has no locus standi in the case. The very next day, the case was referred to the CBI. 

The National Broadcasters Association (NBA) has requested the Centre to withdraw the case as it thinks that it may lead to a witch hunt against the media, its advertisers and advertising agencies. The state government has legitimate doubts that the central government may use the CBI to sabotage the case filed by the state police and to protect its favourites and harass others. The states’ lack of trust in the CBI is not new. It has been infamously dubbed in the past as the “caged parrot’’ doing the bidding of its masters at the Centre. But the lack of trust has deepened with the very evident and gross misuse of the agency by the Centre in recent times. Other central investigating agencies are also wantonly used for political ends. 

The state governments’ decision has to be seen in this context. After a state withdraws its general consent, the CBI can investigate cases in that state only on its request in a specific case or on the orders of the high court or the Supreme Court. A breakdown in the relationship between the Centre and the state governments, which the decision signifies, is not good for the polity, for cooperative federalism, and for the CBI as such. The CBI is an important institution in a very important area of national life and is a link between the Centre and the states. It gets weakened when it loses its credibility and is rejected by the states. The loss of its standing is part of the weakening of all institutions that hold the country’s democratic system together.