A day after the CBI took over a case registered by UP Police against “unknown” channels and persons over alleged fudging of TRPs, the Maharashtra government Wednesday withdrew “general consent” given to the agency to probe cases in the state.
Official sources told The Indian Express that the move follows “apprehension” in the state government that the CBI would take over a similar case on alleged fudging of TRPs in Maharashtra in a bid to move it away from the purview of Mumbai Police.
After registering an FIR on October 6, Mumbai Police had alleged that three channels, including Republic TV, were prima facie involved in manipulating TRPs. Republic TV had subsequently approached the Bombay High Court, where its counsel Harish Salve asked for the case to be transferred to the CBI.
Significantly, both the Central government and the BJP have come out in support of the defendant and called the Mumbai Police action a threat to press freedom.
Earlier, the CBI had also taken over the investigation into the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide, which was being probed by Mumbai Police, after Bihar Police registered an FIR in the case and approached the Supreme Court. The Mumbai Police and the Bihar Police were locked in a war of words over jurisdiction until the apex court cleared the transfer to the agency.
Wednesday’s decision means the central agency will now have to get consent from the state government for every case it registers in Maharashtra. “In exercise of the powers conferred by section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the government of Maharashtra hereby withdraws the consent accorded to the Members of the Delhi Special Police Establishment vide Government Order…dated 22nd February 1989…,” stated the order issued by the Maharashtra Home Department.
The CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that makes consent of a state government mandatory for conducting investigation in that state. Since the CBI has jurisdiction only over Central government departments and employees, it can investigate a case involving state government employees or a violent crime in a state only after the government concerned gives consent.
General consent is given by states so that the CBI can seamlessly conduct its investigation and not seek the state government nod for every case — unlike the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has jurisdiction across the country.
Sources said the CBI taking over the TRP case registered in UP was the “tipping point” that led to Maharashtra’s decision. “It was feared that the central agency would take over the Mumbai Police investigation into the TRP scam as well,” a senior state government official said.
The withdrawal of “general consent” will not have a bearing on cases that CBI has already been investigating. Also, withdrawal only means that the agency cannot register an FIR in Maharashtra. It can still register FIRs in other states and probe anyone in the state, as per a 2018 order of the Delhi High Court.
“While the CBI will need consent from the state for every case, if the Supreme Court asks the agency to take up a case, the withdrawal will not bar it from taking up the investigation,” a Maharashtra Home Department official said.
Mumbai Police have so far named three channels, including Fakt Marathi, Box Cinemas and Republic, in the TRP case for allegedly paying former employees of agencies in charge of calculating TRPs to boost their ratings. Eight persons have been arrested in the case so far, with police saying Wednesday that two more channels are being probed.
In the Rajput case, Mumbai Police had been investigating the Accidental Death Report (ADR) filed after the actor’s suicide at his Bandra residence on June 14. However, the CBI took over the case on August 6.
Maharashtra’s move follows a pattern of non-BJP-ruled states withdrawing consent to the central agency.
In November 2018, the West Bengal government under TMC and the Andhra Pradesh government, then under TDP, had withdrawn “general consent” to the CBI. The two states had alleged that the agency was being used to target the Opposition. In Andhra, however, the YSRCP government restored consent after coming to power last year.
More recently, in July this year, Congress-ruled Rajasthan withdrew consent to the central agency.
In Maharashtra, incidentally, after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress came to power last year, the state had started reviewing the Bhima Koregaon case in which several well-known academicians, activists and lawyers were arrested for allegedly inciting violence — but the NIA took over the case and filed a chargesheet last week.
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