CBI Vs Mamata Banerjee: How Much Jurisdiction Does CBI Have?
Kolkata has been caught in a political whirlwind just months ahead of Lok Sabha polls. Accusing the centre, specifically Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah of plotting a coup against the ruling TMC in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee started a “Save the Constitution” on the night of February 3 at the heart of the capital city.
What was the spat?
The latest spat between Banerjee and the Centre sparked after the CBI had sent a team to interrogate Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar at his residence on Sunday evening. They were reportedly there to look into Kumar’s alleged role in “suppressing” investigations into various Ponzi scams in West Bengal over the last few years, including the infamous Rose Valley and Sarada scams. Meanwhile, a team of Kolkata police had rounded up a team of eight CBI officials who had gone to Kumar’s resident. The Times Of India reported that the local police had taken the CBI investigators to the nearby Shakespeare Sarani police station which triggered the spat. Kumar was heading the Special Investigation Team (SIT) which was looking into both the cases before the CBI took over the cases on the apex court’s order.
However, a pertinent question in regards to the CBI’s functioning in different states has come up amidst all the political drama. The CBI is a national agency which has policing powers. However, as policing is a State subject, present laws only allow the CBI to function outside its jurisdiction (Delhi and Union Territories) with the consent of the other states.
What is “General Consent”?
For the state of West Bengal, the then Left Front in 1989 had accorded the consent to the CBI, which the present Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government withdrew in November 2018. The TMC-led government did so after the Andhra Pradesh pulled of the general consent around the same time. General consent is the periodic approval by a State government which is given to the CBI along with other agencies covered by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946.
According to an article by The Hindu, the instance of states withdrawing their general consent has happened before as in the case of Sikkim when the state withdrew its consent after the CBI had registered a case against former Chief Minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari. Some of the most common reasons cited by leaders of states who have pulled out of the general consent has been a strain in centre-state relationships, overreach of the CBI in state matters and the agency being misused against oppositional parties by the centre, as is the case for West Bengal.
Reportedly, the withdrawal of the general consent limits the CBI from taking up new cases in the state. However, the Supreme Court in a 1994 ruling decided that the existing cases will be allowed to reach their logical conclusion. The CBI is also empowered to seek individual consent from states with regards to specific cases. Moreover, in the most number of cases, the states have accorded their consent for a CBI probe against only Central government employees, even though an agency can investigate a Member Of Parliament.
However, at present, the opposition parties are coming down heavily on the Central Government, accusing the latter of destroying the federal nature of the country. However, the CBI contends that former CBI director Alok Verma had written to the state DGP in 2018 where the latter had promised “full cooperation.”
Refuting claims made by the TMC, Former CBI joint director Navneet Wasan said, “A CBI officer may discharge the function of a police officer in that area and shall, while so discharging such functions, be deemed to be a member of a police force of that area and be vested with the powers, functions and privileges and be subject to the liabilities of a police officer belonging to that police force,” reported India Today.