The Centre claimed in the Supreme Court on Thursday that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is its own boss and the Union government has no control whatsoever over the probe agency in the registration, investigation and prosecution of cases.
The Union’s argument before a Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and Arvind Kumar was based on a suit filed by the State of West Bengal against the Centre. The State alleged that the Central agency CBI was probing several cases and registering FIRs in the State without taking prior consent from the West Bengal government.
“CBI is an independent agency. CBI is not a limb of the Centre. It is a statutory body under the Delhi Special Police Establishment [DSPE] Act,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Union government, argued.
Mr. Mehta submitted that an original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution is filed in a dispute between the Union and a State or between States.
He said the suit was not maintainable and should be dismissed outright as it had deliberately missed the point that the Centre had nothing to do with the CBI registering cases in West Bengal. The agency was acting on its own terms. The Centre had no hold over the CBI’s decisions in investigative matters.
The Solicitor General said even the Central Vigilance Commission, which had the power of superintendence over the CBI, did not exert any influence over the agency’s investigations.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for West Bengal, said the case was not about the Centre’s influence over the CBI. He said the issue raised in the suit was about the jurisdiction of the CBI to investigate cases in a State which has withdrawn consent to it.
‘A preposterous proposition’
Mr. Sibal said it was preposterous for the Centre to contend that only a Central agency could investigate offences made out in a Union law.
“So, a State police force has no power to investigate offences in a Central law… a preposterous proposition,” Mr. Sibal exclaimed.
He said the Centre could not, at the same time, file affidavits meeting the merits of West Bengal’s suit and claim the suit was not maintainable.
Mr. Sibal said the State was not questioning the FIRs registered or seeking to quash them. “That is for the accused to ask for, not the State,” he said.
He said the State was merely on the point of how the CBI could ignore a specific notification issued by the West Bengal government withdrawing consent in 2018.
The West Bengal government argued that the CBI’s power to investigate offences can extend to other States under Section 5 of the DSPE Act, provided the State gives an express consent under Section 6 of the same Act.
“If the State withdraws its consent, Section 5 cannot kick in,” Mr. Sibal argued.
The CBI has lodged multiple FIRs in cases of post-poll violence in West Bengal. A Union affidavit filed in the suit said the cases under the spotlight also relate to offences of corruption against Central government employees, etc.