- Recently, the Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal governments withdrew “general consent” to the CBI for investigating cases in their respective states.
- The state governments said they had lost faith in the CBI in the backdrop of its internal turmoil marked by the open war among the agency’s top officers.
- They have also alleged that the Centre is using the CBI to unfairly target Opposition parties.
What is general consent?
- Unlike the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is governed by its own NIA Act and has jurisdiction across the country, the CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that makes consent of a state government mandatory for conducting investigation in that state.
- There are two kinds of consent: case-specific and general.
- Given that the CBI has jurisdiction only over central government departments and employees, it can investigate a case involving state government employees or a violent crime in a given state only after that state government gives its consent.
- “General consent” is normally given to help the CBI seamlessly conduct its investigation into cases of corruption against central government employees in the concerned state.
- Almost all states have given such consent. Otherwise, the CBI would require consent in every case.
- For example, if it wanted to investigate a bribery charge against a Western Railway clerk in Mumbai, it would have to apply for consent with the Maharashtra government before registering a case against him.
What does withdrawal mean?
- It means the CBI will not be able to register any fresh case involving a central government official or a private person stationed in these two states without getting case-specific consent.
Does that mean that the CBI can no longer probe any case in the two states?
- The CBI would still have the power to investigate old cases registered when general consent existed.
- Also, cases registered anywhere else in the country, but involving people stationed in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, would allow CBI’s jurisdiction to extend to these states.
- There is ambiguity on whether the agency can carry out a search in either of the two states in connection with an old case without the consent of the state government.
- However, there are legal remedies to that as well. The CBI can always get a search warrant from a local court in the state and conduct searches.
- In case the search requires a surprise element, there is CrPC Section 166, which allows a police officer of one jurisdiction to ask an officer of another to carry out searches on his behalf.
- And if the first officer feels that the searches by the latter may lead to loss of evidence, the section allows the first officer to conduct searches himself after giving a notice to the latter.
What happens in fresh cases?
- Withdrawal of consent will only bar the CBI from registering a case within the jurisdiction of Andhra and Bengal.
- The CBI could still file cases in Delhi and continue to probe people inside the two states.
Is it the first time a state government has withdrawn consent?
- Over the years, several states have done so, including Sikkim, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, which stands out as an example.