SC holds as triable West Bengal’s suit against Centre allowing CBI probes in state | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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SC holds as triable West Bengal’s suit against Centre allowing CBI probes in state

Jul 10, 2024 11:10 AM IST

The bench dismissed the Centre’s objections regarding the maintainability of the suit, and decided to proceed with the suit on merits, fixing August 30 as the date to frame the triable issues

The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that a suit filed by the West Bengal government to challenge the central government’s directive permitting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct investigations within the state is maintainable and discloses valid cause of action.

The court had on May 8 reserved its verdict in the matter. (File photo)
The court had on May 8 reserved its verdict in the matter. (File photo)

A bench of justices Bhushan R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta dismissed the Centre’s objections regarding the maintainability of the suit, and decided to proceed with the suit on merits, fixing August 30 as the date to frame the triable issues.

Reading out the operative part of the verdict, justice Gavai highlighted that the contentions of the state government in the suit discloses sufficient cause of action against the central government, which the state argued, established the CBI and continues to administratively control the agency.

“It (the suit) also has wider ramifications on the concept of federalism,” justice Gavai commented while fixing August 30 as the next date of hearing.

The court had on May 8 reserved its verdict in the matter while emphasising that it would not allow the courtroom to become a venue for political arguments and that the court’s focus was solely on legal principles. Both the state’s and the central government’s counsel were instructed to avoid political arguments.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta represented the Centre, while senior counsel Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for the Mamata Banerjee government.

During the last hearing, Mehta objected to Sibal’s previous comments regarding the Enforcement Directorate (ED) becoming involved in cases whenever the CBI entered the state. Mehta referred to an incident in 2022 when the ED allegedly recovered 50 crore from West Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee, linked to financial irregularities in teachers’ recruitment.

While Sibal chose not to respond to Mehta’s remarks, the bench intervened to underscore the importance of objectivity in the judicial process, underlining that the matter at hand was a legal question that would be decided without political arguments.

West Bengal’s suit, filed through advocate Astha Sharma, contended that the central government’s actions and the CBI’s involvement in state matters constitute an overreach and infringe on state sovereignty. The suit points out that the Trinamool Congress government withdrew general consent for CBI probes in November 2018, yet the CBI registered 12 cases despite this withdrawal, which the state sees as “constitutional overreach” by the Centre.

The state’s suit, filed in August 2021, claims that the CBI has been exercising its powers unconstitutionally and demands the annulment of 12 cases registered by the CBI, as well as a restraint on the agency from lodging any new cases.

Rebutting the state’s contentions, Mehta had argued that the CBI operates independently of the Union of India, questioning the connection between the Union’s actions and West Bengal’s grievances. Urging the dismissal of the suit for lacking a direct cause of action against the central government, the SG claimed that the CBI is an independent entity, not controlled by the central government, and accused the West Bengal government of suppressing facts and misleading the court.

Mehta also highlighted that the CBI was not listed as a defendant by the state. He had argued that actions by the CBI cannot be conflated with actions by the Union of India and that the state’s suit must be rejected because the reliefs sought are directed against the agency, but the CBI has not been made a party to the suit under Article 131. This provision allows disputes between the Union and states or between states themselves to be directly adjudicated by the Supreme Court.

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The SG also argued that West Bengal did not approach the court with clean hands, failing to disclose ongoing judicial proceedings related to the same FIRs. Mehta warned that allowing such a suit to proceed could set a dangerous precedent, enabling any government agency to be wrongly implicated in legal actions meant for central or state governments, potentially opening a floodgate of litigation.

In response, Sibal had cited the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, which places the CBI under the central government’s control, including the authority to classify offences and decide geographic areas for the agency’s operations. He argued that this control requires the Centre to respect state boundaries and protocols before permitting CBI interventions in states where consent has been withdrawn.

Sibal maintained that the CBI’s actions within West Bengal are unconstitutional and directed by the central government, which controls the agency under the DSPE Act, asserting that the state has a clear cause of action against the Centre, he emphasised that the case involves issues of jurisdictional encroachment, legal rights and federalism.

Underlining the issue of state law enforcement autonomy versus central investigative agencies like the CBI, Sibal further argued that the CBI cannot operate independently of the Union’s directives and that the DSPE Act places the agency under central government control.

As the bench went on to reserve its judgment on the suit’s maintainability, it posed many questions regarding the DSPE Act, which authorises the Centre to extend the CBI’s powers and jurisdiction to different territories.

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