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Constitutional Powers of Courts vis-a-vis CBI Investigations

Context:

Regardless of whether a CBI investigation is deemed suitable in a specific case, the public tends to place greater trust in this agency compared to other investigative bodies and state police. The CBI’s establishment is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946, and while policing is a state subject, Section 2 of the said act allows for the creation of a special police force to investigate offenses in union territories.

Relevance:

Statutory, Regulatory and various Quasi-judicial Bodies.

Mains Question:

Detailing the provision of general consent in the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in India, analyse the effects of its withdrawal by states as seen recently. What is the relevant Supreme Court ruling in this regard? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Central Bureau of Investigation:

  • The establishment of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was initiated through a resolution of the Ministry of Home Affairs and subsequently moved under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions, where it currently functions as an attached office.
  • Its formation was advised by the Santhanam Committee on the Prevention of Corruption. Operating under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946, the CBI is neither a constitutional nor a statutory body.
  • It specializes in investigating matters concerning bribery, government corruption, violations of central laws, organized crime spanning multiple states, and cases with involvement from various agencies or on an international scale.

Significant Provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946:

  • Section 5(1) grants the Central Government the authority to extend CBI’s jurisdiction to any state, but Section 6 mandates the consent of the respective State Government for investigating offenses within its territory.
  • This requirement aligns with Entry 80 of List I in the Indian Constitution, making State Government consent a prerequisite before invoking the CBI to probe any offense in that state.

Functioning of the CBI:

Prior Approval Requirement:

  • Before initiating any inquiry or investigation into offenses committed by officers holding the rank of joint secretary and above within the Central Government and its authorities, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is obligated to secure prior approval from the Central Government.
  • However, in 2014, the Supreme Court declared this requirement invalid, asserting that Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which shielded officers of joint secretary rank and above from even preliminary inquiries by the CBI in corruption cases, violated Article 14.

General Consent Principle for CBI:

  • The agreement of the state government to CBI investigations can take the form of either specific consent for individual cases or a broader “general” consent.
  • Typically, states grant general consent to facilitate the CBI’s smooth investigation of corruption cases involving central government employees within their jurisdictions.
  • This essentially serves as default consent, allowing the CBI to commence investigations assuming consent has already been granted.
  • In the absence of general consent, the CBI would be required to seek the state government’s consent for each individual case, even for minor actions, adding a layer of procedural complexity to the investigative process.

Federal Structure Alignment:

  • The need for State Government consent aligns with the federal structure of the Constitution, safeguarding the autonomy of each state in legislative and executive matters. Consent can take the form of either general or specific consent for individual cases.
  • Although most states in India have granted general consent for CBI investigations within their borders, the State Government retains the discretion to withdraw this consent.
  • Currently, eight states (Mizoram, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Jharkhand, and Punjab) have withdrawn their general consent, alleging that the Central Government was utilizing the federal agency to destabilize state governments. Notably, all states that withdrew consent are non-BJP ruling states.

Legal Outlook:

  • In the case of “State of West Bengal & Ors. Vs. Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights and Ors. (2010)3 SCC 571,” the Supreme Court addressed whether the High Court (under Article 226) and the Supreme Court (under Article 32) could direct a CBI investigation into cognizable offenses within a state’s territorial jurisdiction without the state government’s consent.
  • The court ruled that such a direction would not violate the federal structure or the separation of powers doctrine.
  • The Supreme Court emphasized that, before ordering a CBI inquiry, the court must determine, based on the materials provided, whether a prima facie case exists warranting CBI investigation.
  • The constitution bench affirmed that judicial review is an integral part of the constitution’s basic structure. Therefore, directions by the Supreme Court or High Court, under Article 32 or 226, to entrust an investigation to the CBI do not contravene the federal structure.
  • An essential question is what test indicates the State Government’s action as unreasonable or arbitrary.
  • The established legal principle is that if the court, after reviewing the materials, concludes that the State Government’s refusal to consent to a CBI investigation is arbitrary, only then can the court direct such an investigation.

Conclusion:

Under the constitutional scheme, CBI investigations can be ordered by three organs: the Central Government with specific State Government consent, the Supreme Court under Article 32, and the respective High Court under Article 226. Such directives do not infringe upon the federal structure and do not constitute an encroachment on state autonomy.


February 2024
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