States that withdrew ‘general consent’ to the CBI to investigate cases such as West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan saw an immediate drop in number of cases registered by the central agency, but a March 2020 Calcutta High Court order in favour of the CBI sent up the numbers in West Bengal this year.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra on October 21 became the latest Opposition-ruled state to withdraw ‘general consent’ to the CBI fearing that it would take up cases being probed by the state police. Earlier this year, the CBI took over the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case investigation on the request of the Bihar Police — a move later approved by the Supreme Court. The Mumbai Police had been earlier probing the suicide.
After the CBI took over a ‘Television Rating Points (TRP) scam’ from the UP Police, the Maharashtra government, apparently fearing a takeover of Mumbai Police’s investigation in a similar scam, well and decided to withdraw consent.
While CBI officials claimed off the record this would hurt their anti-corruption drive against government officials in Maharashtra, numbers from the other states give a clearer picture.
Data available with the agency shows that in West Bengal, 34 and 41 cases respectively were registered in 2017 and 2018 when the CBI had general consent from the state. Consent was withdrawn in November 2018, and in 2019, only 12 cases were registered. However, in 2020, the CBI West Bengal unit registered 56 cases in just 10 months till October. This is higher than the number of cases that the agency has registered in the past five years.
A senior CBI official from West Bengal said that in 2019 they hardly received any response from the state government to any of the cases they sent for consent from them. “In the absence of state government consent, in cases of let’s say a central government employee seeking bribe, we would inform the vigilance department of that particular unit,” the official said. “Hence the number of cases in 2019 reduced,” the official added.
In 2020, following the low number of cases with the West Bengal CBI unit, it was decided to hand over 16 FIRs related to the ponzi scheme fraud that the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to investigate in 2014, to the West Bengal CBI unit.
Soon, the CBI got another shot in the arm when the Calcutta High Court in March this year passed an order stating, “This court is, therefore, of the view that, the central government/CBI’s power to investigate and prosecute its own officials cannot be in any way impeded or interfered by the state even if the offences were committed within the territory of the state.”
An official said, “After the HC judgment in March, we have started registering cases as before without the state government’s consent. Hence the total number of cases in the current year is higher than before. Now unless the HC decision is challenged by the state government, we will use the judgment to register cases.”
Along with West Bengal under TMC, the then Andhra Pradesh government under TDP too had withdrawn ‘general consent’ to the CBI in November 2018. However, in June 2019, the new Jaganmohan Reddy government restored general consent. In the eight-month period that the consent was withdrawn, only four cases were registered by the CBI Visakhapatnam unit. In 2020, 14 cases have been registered in the ten months of the current year.
Later, Chhattisgarh withdrew general consent in January 2019. After withdrawal of consent, it registered just three cases in that year compared to 13 in the previous year.
Rajasthan withdrew general consent in July this year after which no cases have been registered by the CBI there. Prior to the withdrawal in July, at least four cases were registered between January and July this year.
Within the CBI, there is a view that one option to function in states that have withdrawn consent is to invoke the Calcutta High Court judgment in these states as well, but the central agency has not yet chosen this path. A CBI spokesperson said they would not want to comment on the issue.
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