TMC govt, CBI set for another face-off in Supreme Court
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the West Bengal government are set to have yet another face off in the Supreme Court over the agency’s authority to carry out investigations in the state, a battle that reprises one that the two fought around two years ago in the Saradha chit fund case, and which comes ahead of the assembly elections.
On Monday, the state’s Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government filed a petition in the top court challenging CBI’s power to register a coal smuggling case, pointing out that the state government withdrew the general consent to the central investigation agency to conduct investigations within the state as far back as November 2018.
Rujira Banerjee, the wife of TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee has been questioned by the central agency in connection with the case. Abhishek is also a nephew of the chief minister.
The state’s petition requests the court to stay the probe in the case until the validity of CBI’s FIR is finally decided.
The TMC and the Bharatiya Janata Party (which heads the Union government) are in the midst of a bitter electoral battle which has been marked by high-intensity campaigning, incidents of violence and alleged political killings and assaults, and a spate of defections.
In its petition, the state said CBI could not assume jurisdiction to probe just because the case involved illegal mining and pilferage of coal from the leasehold area of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL) to certain so-called railway areas and railway sidings since the state of West Bengal, through its railway police force, was vested with powers of general policing of railways.
Railways is a Union ministry.
“Further, for any unlawful possession of railway property, the relevant investigating agency is the Railway Protection Force, under the Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1966. Therefore, CBI through the impugned FIR is attempting to usurp the constitutional powers of the state police and the Railway Protection Force,” added the state’s plea, which will be argued by senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The West Bengal government has disputed the correctness of an order of the division bench of the Calcutta high court, which, on February 12 permitted CBI to continue its investigation in the entire state despite revocation of the consent by the state government.
This order was passed by the division bench on the appeal filed by CBI as well as one of the prime accused in the case, Anup Majee, who has also approached the apex court.
The state has submitted in the apex court that the high court erred in holding that railway areas in a state are excluded from the purview of consent to be provided by states, and that withdrawal of consent by a state would have no impact on investigation in such areas.
Meanwhile, an SC bench of justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah took up Majee’s petition for a hearing on Monday but adjourned it to March 10 on a request made by CBI, represented by solicitor general Tushar Mehta.