CBI left with limited tools to counter states’ action

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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has limited legal options in the seven states that have withdrawn general consent to the agency for conducting probes within their boundaries, according to current and former agency officials and experts.

Since CBI does not have any legal tools to reverse the decision of these states and policing is a state subject, CBI officials who did not want to be named pointed out that they might have to approach courts on a case-by-case basis for conducting investigations and carrying out searches.

They added that the central government is aware of the matter and is deliberating how to navigate the situation.

“CBI cannot challenge the decision by state governments as police is state subject, but it can go to high courts or Supreme Court in individual cases,” former CBI director AP Singh said.

He added that unlike CBI, other federal agencies such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) enjoy all-India jurisdiction without any prior permission under some relevant sections related to terrorism and money laundering.

According to a CBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the central agency’s biggest worry in this imbroglio is the withdrawal of general consent by bigger states such as Maharashtra and Kerala.

The move makes it mandatory for the federal agency to seek the state government’s permission before taking up cases within its borders.

CBI comes under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act which requires states to give the agency a general consent to act. This is because public order and police are under the purview of state governments, which routinely renew the permission under section 6 of the legislation.

“After New Delhi, our Mumbai unit accounts for majority of cases registered every year. (Not having general consent in) Maharashtra definitely is a big loss,” said the CBI official cited above.

For example, CBI has not registered a single first information report, or FIR, at its Mumbai branch since the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government withdrew the general consent on October 21. Usually, three to four — sometimes more — FIRs pertaining to corruption and bank fraud, among other offences, are registered in agency’s Mumbai unit every month.

A second serving CBI official, who too requested anonymity, said that “while general consent has been withdrawn in the past too, never has agency been blocked by seven states in a row”.

Apart from Maharashtra, Kerala and Jharkhand, which have withdrawn general consent for CBI probes within the past month, other states to have taken a similar step are the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government, and the Mizo National Front (MNF)-ruled Mizoram.

These state governments have claimed that the Centre is using the agency to settle political scores.

Tripura too stopped CBI from conducting investigations in the state last year, but the general consent was reinstated earlier this year.

Similarly, the Andhra Pradesh government blocked the agency in November 2018, when Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister. When YS Jagan Mohan Reddy became the state chief minister last year, he restored the general consent.

“What is happening is completely understandable. CBI has become a complete tool and instrument in the hands of the central government to practise the politics of vendetta or circumvention against non-BJP, non-NDA (National Democratic Alliance) states. Misuse as instrument of harassment and the terror have resulted in the legitimate reaction of states withdrawing general all time consent,” senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

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