Andhra Pradesh on Friday withdrew the “general consent” granted to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), effectively curtailing the agency’s powers in the State without prior permission.
The CBI and all agencies under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, will now have to approach the State government for permission for investigation on a case by case basis.
Sources in the State Home Ministry said the general consent was routinely given for periods ranging from six months to a year, for several years now. The last such consent was given on August 3, 2018.
However, the State decided to withdraw this consent through a notification (GOMs no 176, Home Department) issued on November 8, 2018. This notification, which was kept confidential, was made public on Thursday night.
Deputy Chief Minister N. Chinarajappa, who also holds Home portfolio, said the withdrawal of general consent was in tune with suggestions made by legal experts and intellectuals in the light of serious allegations against the CBI.
Mamata follows suit
Shortly after Andhra Pradesh’s decision, the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government also decided to withdraw the “general consent”, a senior official at the State secretariat said in Kolkata said. The consent had been accorded to the CBI by the then Left Front government in 1989.
Earlier, on Friday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee extended support to A.P. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu on the issue.
Asked if there was a precedent of a State government taking back consent, Mr Chinarajappa cited the example of Karnataka in 1998.
Apparently, showing red flag to CBI is a political decision, seen in the context of relationship between Telugu Desam government and the BJP-led Centre turning sour and the recent Income Tax raids on prominent TDP MPs and leaders.
Of late Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu has been raised the issue of the central governnent misusing the CBI, I-T and Enforcement Directrate to target the BJP’s political rivals, citing the instances of IT raids on his party leaders. The government, TDP sources said, also wondered how the CBI could investigate a corruption case in any State when its two top most officers were trading charges against each other and had lost all its credibility.
A senior police officer however, said the decision was purely an administrative one taken in the context of law and order being a State subject that necessitated any Central investigation agency taking prior consent. “Earlier the consent was given routinely and now the Government thought instead of a blanket permission, it should be on the merit of each case”.
He said the State police was studying the feasibility of State’s Anti-Corruption Bureau taking over at least some functions of CBI.
General consent is the periodic approval by a State government to the CBI and other agencies covered by Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. The consent is necessary as the jurisdiction of these agencies is confined to Delhi and Union Territories under this Act.
Withdrawal of general consent may not have any bearing on the existing cases, ongoing investigations and the filing of charge sheets by the CBI in Andhra Pradesh, according to agency officials.
Although the CBI spokesperson on Friday said the agency was yet to get a certified copy of the order and examine it to determine further course of action, another official cited a Supreme Court judgment in Kazi Lhendup Dorji v. Central Bureau of Investigation & Ors (1994) to stress that it would not impact the already instituted cases.
In that judgment, the Supreme Court had held that: “An Order revoking an Order giving Consent under Section of the Act [Delhi Special Police Establishment Act], can only have prospective operation and would not affect matters in which action has been initiated prior to the issuance of the Order of Revocation.”
A retired senior CBI official said: “In the past, State governments have withdrawn their consents. This has happened in Nagaland several times and also in Karnataka for about eight years, due to which most of the CBI officials had to be transferred out and a skeletal staff was maintained there.”
In Karnataka, the J.H. Patel’s Janata Dal government had withdrawn the consent on December 15, 1998, and not renewed it for several years. Also, in late 70s, the Devaraj Urs government had also recalled the general permission for CBI probes.
“The withdrawal of general consent means that the CBI officers lose police powers under the Criminal Procedure Code in the State concerned and for registering each case, the agency has to seek a specific consent from the State government. As a result, it stalls registration of new cases,” said another official.
The Opposition reacted sharply to the TDP government's move. BJP spokesman and Rajya Sabha member G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said the government’s decision amounted to a mala fide exercise of its executive power to extend political patronage to people and organisations involved in corruption and criminality.
YSRCP Political Advisory Committee (PAC) member Ambati Rambabu said the government was trying to prevent the CBI from entering the State because the TDP leaders are afraid that the truth about the attack on YSR Congress President Y.S.Jagan Mohan Reddy will come out.