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Supreme Court Reserves Verdict on West Bengal’s Suit Against CBI


The Supreme Court has withheld its decision on the West Bengal government’s lawsuit, which claims that the CBI is investigating post-poll violence cases in the state without obtaining its prior approval as mandated by the law. This follows the Centre’s assertion that West Bengal’s original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution is misconceived.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Centre’s Challenge Regarding CBI Probes’ Maintainability
  2. Article 131 of the Constitution of India
  3. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
  4. Functions of CBI
  5. Challenges of CBI

Centre’s Challenge Regarding CBI Probes’ Maintainability


  • The Supreme Court addressed an original suit initiated by the State of West Bengal under Article 131 of the Constitution.
  • West Bengal alleges that the Union government interferes in cases within the state’s jurisdiction by unilaterally authorizing the CBI to investigate them.

West Bengal’s Position:

  • The Centre persists in employing the CBI despite the State’s withdrawal of general consent to CBI investigations within its territory, a decision made under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946 in November 2018.
  • The CBI has initiated over 15 cases in West Bengal.

Centre’s Position:

  • The Solicitor General contended that the suit was not maintainable and should be dismissed outright.
  • West Bengal incorrectly designated the Union as the defendant in the suit. The petitioners were mistaken in labeling the CBI as the “police force of the Union.”
  • The Centre asserted it had no involvement in the location or manner of CBI investigations.
  • It further argued that the suit could not be amended to include the CBI as a defendant since it was not considered a ‘state’ under Article 131. Original suits under Article 131 are exclusively for disputes involving the Centre and States.

Observations by the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court scrutinized the Centre’s assertion, highlighting Section 5(1) of the DSPE Act, the legislation governing the premier investigative agency.
  • Section 5(1) permits the Central government to confer the Delhi Special Police Establishment (CBI) jurisdiction over areas in states, including railway areas, to investigate specific offenses.
Article 131 of the Constitution of India

Article 131 of the Constitution of India confers upon the Supreme Court (SC) the authority to adjudicate disputes between various entities within the Indian Federation. These disputes encompass the following scenarios:

  • Disputes between the Government of India and one or more states.
  • Conflicts involving the Government of India and any state(s) on one side and one or more states on the other.
  • Disputes between two or more states, particularly if the dispute revolves around a question of law or fact that determines the existence or scope of a legal right.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

  • The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was set up in 1963 after the recommendation of Santhanam committee under Ministry of Home affairs and was later transferred to the Ministry of Personnel and now it enjoys the status of an attached office.
  • Now, the CBI comes under the administrative control of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.
  • The CBI derives its powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, however, it is NOT a Statutory Body.
  • CBI is the apex anti-corruption body in the country – Along with being the main investigating agency of the Central Government it also provides assistance to the Central Vigilance Commission and Lokpal.
  • The CBI is required to obtain the prior approval of the Central Government before conducting any inquiry or investigation.
  • The CBI is also the nodal police agency in India which coordinates investigations on behalf of Interpol Member countries.
  • The CBI’s conviction rate is as high as 65 to 70% and it is comparable to the best investigation agencies in the world.
  • The CBI is headed by a Director and he is assisted by a special director or an additional director. It has joint directors, deputy inspector generals, superintendents of police.

CBI has following divisions

  • Anti-Corruption Division
  • Economic Offences Division
  • Special Crimes Division
  • Policy and International Police Cooperation Division
  • Administration Division
  • Directorate of Prosecution
  • Central Forensic Science Laboratory

How does the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) function in India?

Provision of Prior Permission:
  • The CBI is required to obtain prior approval from the Central Government before conducting an inquiry or investigation into an offense committed by officers of the rank of joint secretary and above in the Central Government and its authorities.
  • The Supreme Court, in 2014, declared Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which provided protection to joint secretary and above officers from facing preliminary inquiries by the CBI in corruption cases, as invalid and violative of Article 14.
General Consent Principle for CBI:
  • The state government can grant consent to the CBI on a case-specific basis or through a “general” consent.
  • General consent is usually given by states to facilitate seamless investigation of corruption cases involving central government employees within their states.
  • This consent is considered implicit, allowing the CBI to initiate investigations assuming consent has already been given.
  • Without general consent, the CBI would need to seek permission from the state government for each individual case, even for minor actions.

Challenges of CBI

  • The CBI has been dubbed a “caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice” by the Supreme Court of India due to excessive political influence in its operations. It has frequently been utilised by the government to conceal misdeeds, keep coalition allies in line, and keep political opponents at away. It has been accused of massive delays in concluding investigations, such as in its investigation into high-ranking Jain dignitaries in the Jain hawala diaries case [in the 1990s].
  • Loss of Credibility: Improving the agency’s image has been one of the most difficult challenges so far, as the agency has been chastised for its mishandling of several high-profile cases, including the Bofors scandal, the Hawala scandal, the Sant Singh Chatwal case, the Bhopal gas tragedy, and the 2008 Noida double murder case (Aarushi Talwar).
  • Lack of Accountability: CBI is exempt from the Right to Information Act, which means it is not accountable to the public.
  • Acute staff shortage: One of the key causes of the shortfall is the government’s mishandling of the CBI’s employees, which includes an inefficient and inexplicably biassed recruitment policy that was utilised to bring in favoured officials, possibly to the organization’s damage.
  • Limited Authority: Members of the CBI’s investigative powers and jurisdiction are subject to the consent of the State Government, restricting the scope of the CBI’s inquiry.
  • Restricted Access: Obtaining prior authorisation from the Central Government to initiate an inquiry or probe into Central Government workers at the level of Joint Secretary and above is a major impediment to tackling corruption at the highest levels of government.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024