The Andhra government’s withdrawal of ‘general consent’ given to the CBI to investigate any case in the state is a retrograde step as much dictated by spite for the Narendra Modi government at the Centre due to a running battle with it as because of fears that the CBI would unravel skeletons in the cupboards of the Chandrababu Naidu government.
That the Naidu government is not and has not been squeaky clean is common knowledge. It is also not unusual for the Centre to put the CBI on the trail of governments run by adversaries, a practice that even past governments have followed despite claims of non-interference in the affairs of the CBI.
Yet, Naidu is setting a wrong precedent which cannot be allowed to prevail. As a central investigating agency, the CBI is a cushion against corruption and misuse of authority at the Centre and the states and any dilution of its authority would hit the federal polity hard.
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Today it is Andhra that is defying CBI’s jurisdiction, tomorrow it may be other states following in its footsteps. West Bengal has already indicated that it too may bar the CBI from investigating crime in the state except when the state government specifically asks for it.
While disputes between the Centre and states are one thing, the principles of federalism need to be followed scrupulously to maintain the fear of law.
The Chandrababu government’s stance would avoidably create further bad blood between the Centre and Andhra Pradesh and sour the already bad equation from the time when the Telugu Desam led by Chandrababu Naidu walked out of the National Democratic Front at the Centre.
With an order issued by the Andhra government revoking the blanket consent to the CBI, the agency would not be able to carry out searches and raids in the state without taking consent from the state government. This would hamper the CBI investigations and affect the effectiveness of the central agency to track down corruption.
Earlier, Naidu had accused the Centre of trying to destabilise his government by using central agencies and had accused the BJP of colluding with Opposition leader Jagan Mohan Reddy to topple his government by using the CBI and the income tax department.
At present, there are no major CBI cases going on in Andhra Pradesh. The case of meat exporter Moin Qureshi and businessman Sana Sathish are registered not in Andhra but in New Delhi.
Instructively, while Section 5 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act 1946 gives powers to the CBI over all areas in the country, Section 6 states that without the consent of the particular state government, the Central agency cannot enter a state’s jurisdiction.
There are other states too where state governments are facing the heat from the CBI. Take West Bengal for instance. The irregularities in chit funds are being investigated by the CBI and the Mamata Banerjee government has faced embarrassment over CBI revelations on money made by politicians and bureaucrats.
Unless the Centre nips Chandrababu Naidu’s defiance in the bud, many states would resort to banning the CBI from investigations in their state as a convenient ploy to shield themselves from the fallout of corruption investigations.
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All said and done, however, the long-expressed demand that the CBI be insulated from governmental interference and it be made independent cannot and must not be ignored much longer. Every successive government has ducked the issue but there is a dire need for it.
The recent allegations and counter-allegations against the CBI top brass which are awaiting the Supreme Court’s scrutiny cannot be cited as an alibi to deny jurisdiction to the CBI. The Centre must put its foot down and scuttle all attempts by individual states to defy the norms.