The Central Bureau of Investigation was aptly described as a ‘ caged parrot ’. The governments of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal put the CBI in chains last week by withdrawing ‘general consent’ to the much-maligned agency and made it persona non grata in their respective States. The CBI no longer will be able to pursue any investigation in these two States without prior consent of their governments respectively. It will be tempting for other State governments to follow suit and keep the CBI out of bounds.
India being a Union of States, weakening federalism would pose a threat to the unity of the nation. In spite of the shortcomings of the CBI and its misuse by successive Union governments since independence, an investigation agency with nationwide jurisdiction is a must to maintain the federal structure.
Unfortunately, the CBI was established under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act unlike the National Investigating Agency set up under an Act of Parliament. It is mandatory for the CBI to seek consent of a State government for conducting any investigation in that State. The CBI has jurisdiction only over Central government departments and employees to investigate cases involving corruption.
In order to investigate violent crimes in a given State it should obtain consent of that State government. A government order (No. 176) issued by the Andhra Pradesh Home Department by Principal Secretary AR Anuradha states: “In exercise of Power conferred by Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the government hereby withdraws all general consent accorded on 3 August 2018 to all members of the Delhi Special Police Department to exercise the powers and jurisdiction under the said Act in the State of Andhra Pradesh.”
Section 6 of the Act says, “Nothing contained in Section 5 shall be deemed to enable any member of any Delhi Special Police Establishment to exercise powers and jurisdiction in any area in a State not being a Union Territory or Railway area, without the consent of the government of that State.” The CBI will still have the power to investigate old cases registered when general consent existed. The Chandrababu Naidu government till recently, to be precise till it was a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, thought it appropriate to give general consent to the CBI.
The only reason for the sudden change in policy is the souring of relationship between the BJP and the Telugu Desam Party. According to an order of the Delhi High Court dated 11 October, the CBI can still investigate any one in Andhra Pradesh and Bengal by registering the case in Delhi. But the CBI needs to refurbish its image.