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May 2, 2024

Centre Asserts CBI Autonomy, Disputes West Bengal’s Suit in Supreme Court

The Centre contested the West Bengal government’s lawsuit in the Supreme Court, asserting that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) operates independently and is not under the control of the Union of India. The dispute revolves around the CBI’s probe into various cases in West Bengal despite the state’s withdrawal of general consent for the agency’s jurisdiction.

The West Bengal government filed an original suit under Article 131 of the Constitution, challenging the Centre’s authority regarding the CBI’s investigations within the state. Article 131 grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in disputes between the Centre and one or more states.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, emphasized the sanctity of Article 131, stating that it cannot be misused or abused. He clarified that the cases referenced in the state’s suit were not registered by the Union of India but by the CBI itself, which operates independently.

“The Union of India has not registered any case. CBI has registered it,” Mehta stated, further emphasizing, “CBI is not under the control of the Union of India.”

The hearing on the matter is ongoing, with the Centre presenting its preliminary objections to the lawsuit. This legal battle stems from West Bengal’s decision on November 16, 2018, to withdraw the “general consent” provided to the CBI, effectively limiting the agency’s authority to conduct probes or raids within the state.

The West Bengal government’s move to withdraw consent has sparked a legal tussle over jurisdiction and control of investigative agencies. The state contends that without its consent, the CBI lacks the authority to proceed with investigations within its territorial boundaries. Conversely, the Centre maintains that the CBI operates autonomously and is not subject to direct control by the Union of India.

The dispute highlights broader issues of federalism and the distribution of powers between the central and state governments. With the CBI being a central investigative agency, conflicts over jurisdiction often arise, especially when states seek to assert their autonomy over matters within their purview.

The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling on this case will likely have significant implications for the relationship between the Centre and the states, as well as the autonomy of investigative agencies like the CBI. It will clarify the extent of the Centre’s control over federal agencies and establish precedent for similar disputes in the future.

As the legal battle unfolds, it underscores the importance of constitutional provisions and the role of the judiciary in resolving disputes between different levels of government. The outcome will not only impact the functioning of investigative agencies but also set precedents for the division of powers in India’s federal structure

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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