The CBI cannot step into an investigation without a state government’s consent and the centre cannot extend the agency’s jurisdiction to a state without permission either, the Supreme Court has ruled in a petition by officials accused in a corruption case in Uttar Pradesh.
“As per law, state consent is a must and the Centre cannot extend CBI jurisdiction without the state’s consent. The law is in tune with the federal structure of the constitution,” the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
The ruling becomes significant with eight opposition-ruled states – Rajasthan, Bengal, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Mizoram — cancelling consent for CBI probes in their states.
Supreme Court judges AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai referred to the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act that regulates the CBI or Central Bureau of Investigation.
“Though Section 5 enables the Central Government to extend the powers and jurisdiction of Members of the DSPE (CBI) beyond the Union Territories to a state, the same is not permissible unless, a state grants its consent for such an extension within the area of state concerned under Section 6 of the DSPE Act. Obviously, the provisions are in tune with the federal character of the constitution, which has been held to be one of the basic structures of the constitution,” the top court ruled.
The top court’s verdict was on appeals challenging a judgment passed by the Allahabad High Court in August 2019 in a case involving Fertico Marketing and Investment Private Limited.
A surprise raid by the CBI in the factory premises of Fertico found that the coal it had bought under the Fuel Supply Agreement with Coal India Limited was allegedly sold in the black market. The CBI had registered a case.
Two officials of the District Industries Centre were also found to be involved in the case. The officials had argued that the general consent given by the state government was not enough and separate consent ought to have been obtained before they were investigated.
The Allahabad High Court had noted that the Uttar Pradesh government had retroactively granted consent against the two public servants, who were later named in a charge-sheet, and that was sufficient.
Confirming the High Court order, the Supreme Court said, “In the result, we find no reason to interfere with the finding of the High Court with regard to not obtaining prior consent of the State government.”
Several opposition-ruled states have withdrawn general consent to the CBI to investigate cases, alleging that the BJP-led government at the centre is misusing the agency to harass political opponents.
The move means the CBI cannot carry out investigations in these states without seeking permission.