Maharashtra withdraws consent to CBI for probes in state
Vineet Agrawal, principal secretary (special), home department, confirmed an order to this effect was issued. Maharashtra became the fourth state to issue such an order.Updated: Oct 22, 2020, 01:11 IST
The Maharashtra government on Wednesday withdrew the general consent given to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe cases in the state, making it mandatory for the federal agency to seek the state government’s permission before taking up cases within its borders.
Vineet Agrawal, principal secretary (special), home department, confirmed an order to this effect was issued. Maharashtra became the fourth state to issue such an order.
CBI, which functions under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, will have to approach the Maharashtra government for permission for investigation on a case-by-case basis, another senior bureaucrat, who did not want to be named, said.
Maharashtra’s move came a day after CBI decided to probe the alleged manipulation of Television Rating Points (TRP) after registering a first information report (FIR) on the recommendation of the Uttar Pradesh government.
Earlier this month, Mumbai Police shone light on the alleged scam. They are probing three channels, including Republic TV. The state police have registered an FIR for cheating and criminal conspiracy, among other charges, and arrested eight people.
“The Maharashtra government cannot stop CBI from investigating the TRP case registered on the recommendation of the Uttar Pradesh government; it cannot stop CBI from interrogating people in this particular case. However, now CBI cannot take over the Mumbai Police’s FIR in the TRP case without the state government’s approval. Wednesday’s decision seems to have been taken to stop CBI from taking up their TRP case,” a retired CBI official, who asked not to be named, said.
“It will be interesting to see how courts react (if there is a legal dispute) in two separate cases on the TRP issue...,” he added.
CBI did not officially comment on Maharashtra’s decision.
A senior agency official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said “regular withdrawal of general consent by states for conducting probes in their territory makes the agency’s work difficult”.
He, however, said that the state’s decision will not affect ongoing probes.
“It’s a settled law that once consent has been given for a probe, it cannot be withdrawn. But from now, for any new probe against any government official — be it central or state government official — we will need to approach the Maharashtra government. For example, if we have to investigate an officer of the Mumbai Port Trust, we will have to seek the state’s nod. Also, the state government cannot block probes ordered by high courts or the Supreme Court.”
Shrihari Aney, a former advocate general of Maharashtra, too, said the move will not affect ongoing cases (such as the one into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput). He added that CBI can seek an appropriate court order if it intends to investigate a case in Maharashtra if the state government denies consent.
“I see this (the move) as the result of a turf war and ego clash....when it comes to a point where a particular agency will probe and not the other, it is an ego tussle,” Aney said.
The decision came against the backdrop of a tug of war between the state’s police force and CBI in at least two high-profile cases.
Before the TRP case, Mumbai Police were locked in a jurisdictional tussle with the Centre and CBI over the death of Rajput, who was found hanging at his Mumbai apartment on June 14 in what the police said appeared to be an open-and-shut case of suicide.
A political controversy erupted after a Bihar Police team constituted to probe the case on a complaint by the actor’s family in Patna alleged it got no cooperation from its Mumbai counterpart. Subsequently, CBI took over the case on Bihar’s request.
A Maharashtra minister, who requested anonymity, said the increasing interference of the central government in policing forced the state government to make such a move. “We saw what happened in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput matter...Policing is a state subject. The hijacking of cases to undermine the authority of the state government every time cannot be tolerated,” he said.
In late 2018, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh withdrew the general consent to CBI for investigations, alleging that the Centre was misusing the agency to harass opponents. However, the government of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, which came into power in Andhra 2019, reversed the decision.
Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Congress, withdrew the general consent to CBI in January 2019. And in July 2020, the Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan followed suit.
CBI comes under the DSPE Act and it requires states to give the agency a general consent to act against central government employees within a state as public order and police are under the purview of state governments, which routinely renew the permission under section 6 of the legislation.