Supreme Court rejects UOI’s preliminary objections

Supreme Court rejects UOI’s preliminary objections

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India Archive photo | PTI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the West Bengal government’s plea that the CBI was continuing the probe into post-poll violence in the state without obtaining its prior approval as per law and dismissed the Centre’s preliminary objections.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta, which had reserved its verdict after hearing detailed arguments from the West Bengal government and the Centre, pronounced the verdict.

“In view of the arguments advanced in this case, we have taken into consideration the scheme of the DSPE (Delhi Special Police Establishment) Act as well as the rules of the Supreme Court. We reject the preliminary objections of the Centre on the admissibility of the complaint (filed by the West Bengal government),” Justice Gavai said in the verdict.

It has also made it clear in the judgment that the West Bengal government’s legal action regarding the CBI investigation into the cases despite withdrawal of the state’s consent will continue in accordance with the law on its own merits.

The verdict appears to have come as a setback to the Centre as the Supreme Court held that the complaint was admissible. Meanwhile, the West Bengal government had alleged that the Union had misused the CBI.

The Centre, through its senior counsel Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, had earlier told the Supreme Court that a state government cannot claim the right to issue omnibus, general and sweeping directions to withdraw its consent to a CBI probe on any matter. “The state government can exercise the power to grant/withhold consent only on a case-to-case basis,” Mehta said and sought that the West Bengal government’s petition be dismissed by the Supreme Court.

It is to be noted that the CBI has filed several FIRs in cases of post-poll violence in West Bengal, which had staunchly opposed it.

Mehta also raised a preliminary objection to the complaint filed by the West Bengal government and said the state’s original complaint was not maintainable. “The CBI does not come under the Centre. The CBI is an independent agency and not the one under the central government. Therefore, the central government cannot be sued in this case,” Mehta told the Supreme Court.

He further accused the West Bengal government of trying to bring the same issue before the Supreme Court in two different cases.

The court was hearing arguments in an original suit filed by the West Bengal government against the central government over alleged misuse of the CBI in cases concerning the state.

Opposing Mehta’s arguments, senior advocate Kapil Sibal of the West Bengal government told the top court that the CBI cannot investigate cases relating to West Bengal without the general consent of the state government.

“We are dealing with a law (Delhi Special Police Establishment Act) which has an impact on the federal structure of this country. General consent is required before entering the state,” Sibal said, raising questions on how the CBI can investigate cases in its territory without prior sanctions from the state government.

He also pointed out that once the CBI gives a foothold in a state, soon after, the education department also goes there to investigate the predicate offence. “This has huge implications for the politics of this country. All this has huge implications for Indian politics,” the senior counsel said.

The West Bengal government, in its complaint filed before the top court, has accused the CBI of continuing its investigation into the post-poll violence cases without following the law to obtain mandatory prior approval from the state in the case.

The West Bengal government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, alleging that the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) had filed FIRs (First Information Reports) and was automatically carrying out its investigation, despite the state government not giving prior approval to the federal agency to investigate cases falling under its territorial jurisdiction.

In its plea, the state government said it had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Centre under Article 131 of the Constitution, which allows a state to directly approach the Supreme Court in case of a dispute with the Centre or any other state.

It may be noted that the WB government had on November 16, 2018, withdrawn the blanket consent granted to the CBI to conduct investigations and raids in the state.

The West Bengal government filed the original complaint in the Supreme Court against the Centre also under Article 131 of the Constitution, alleging that the CBI lodged FIRs and carried out its investigation, despite the state having withdrawn general consent to the federal agency to investigate cases falling under its territorial jurisdiction.

Article 131 of the Indian Constitution deals with the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in a dispute between the Centre and one or more States.