Maharashtra government withdraws general consent to the CBI to probe cases

Published : Oct 23, 2020 12:30 IST

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

In a move meant to curtail the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) powers in the State, the Maharashtra government withdrew its general consent agreement with the agency on October 21, 2020. The CBI will henceforth have to seek permission from the State government for every case it has to investigate in the State. Maharashtra is the third State after Rajasthan and West Bengal to take this action.

The decision appears to be in response to the CBI probing a recent TRP (Television Rating Point) scam, which allegedly involves three television channels, including Republic Television.

The Mumbai Police is investigating a complaint by the employee of a brand consultancy firm that works with TRPs. Acting on the complainant’s recorded statement, which accused television channels of bribing households that installed TRPs metres, the Mumbai Police filed a first information report (FIR) against three television channels on October 6. At least six people have been arrested in this connection. Additionally, heads of the accused channels, employees and several people connected with TRPs have been summoned by the police for questioning. After the police filed the FIR, Republic TV approached the Bombay High Court, asking for the case to be transferred to the CBI.

Worried that the CBI may take over the Mumbai Police’s investigation, the Maharashtra government decided to withdraw the arrangement. A few months ago, the CBI took over the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide and drug case and the government had probably decided it was time to put an end to interference from the Centre, says a government source.

On October 20, the Uttar Pradesh government handed over a registered case against “unknown” channels and people in connection with alleged fudging of TRPs to the CBI. This allowed the CBI to enter Mumbai and run a parallel probe to the one conducted by the Mumbai Police.

The CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that makes the consent of a State government mandatory for conducting any investigation in that State. General consent is given by the States so that the CBI can circumvent bureaucratic delays and seamlessly conduct its investigation without having to seek the State government’s permission for every case.

Unfortunately, while the Maharashtra government may use the tools available to prevent CBI from meddling, the courts can overrule the State government. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court have the power to direct the CBI to probe a case or take over a case from the State police. If the Centre truly wants to interfere, it can use the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe cases.

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