In a development that came to light on the heels of the MLAs poaching case, Telangana withdrew general consent to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) recently, barring the agency from probing cases in the state without the government's permission.
Though the government issued an order in this regard on 30 August, it was informed to the Telangana High Court by the Additional Advocate General (AAG) on 30 October, during a hearing on a petition filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which sought a CBI or Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the alleged conspiracy to poach Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MLAs. You can read more about the case here.
Telangana is now among several states in the country that have withdrawn general consent to the CBI, under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. Amid growing allegations that the BJP-led central government is using central agencies to stifle dissent in non-BJP-ruled states, it is important to understand the significance of this development.
So, what does the 'withdrawal of general consent' mean? Which other states have done it? What were the political triggers for the withdrawal? Here's the low-down.
What Does 'General Consent' Mean?
The Telangana Home Department, on 30 August, issued Government Order. No. 51 (GO.51), stating that the "Government of Telangana hereby withdraws all previous general consents issued by the state government under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946."
Section 6 states that a member of the Delhi Special Police Establishment, which includes the CBI, cannot exercise powers and jurisdiction under the Act in any area in a state without the consent of the government of that state.
General consent, however, enables the agency to probe cases in states by default, without the prior permission of the state governments. By withdrawing general consent, Telangana has ensured that the CBI must take prior permission – on a case-to-case basis – for investigating any offence in the state.
Though consent is generally given to the CBI by all states by default, governments, especially non-BJP-ruled ones, have been withdrawing it one after the other since 2015.
Other States That Withdrew General Consent to CBI
Mizoram, in 2015, became the first state in recent times to withdraw general consent to the CBI. The state, which was ruled by the Congress at the time, had Lal Thanhawla as chief minister. Though the Mizo National Front (MNF) – an NDA ally – came to power in 2018, consent to the CBI was not restored.
Andhra Pradesh showed a red flag to the CBI in 2018, when the state was ruled by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), with N Chandrababu Naidu as chief minister. The withdrawal of general consent was, reportedly, a political decision – the result of a rift between the ruling party and the BJP-led Centre owing to multiple Income Tax raids on prominent TDP MPs and leaders.
Consent was restored in the state after YSR Congress chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power in 2019.
Shortly after AP withdrew general consent to the CBI, the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government followed suit. The Trinamool Congress chief had said, "What Chandrababu Naidu has done is absolutely right. The BJP is using the CBI and other agencies to pursue its own political interests and vendetta."
A few months after Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal withdrew general consent accorded to the CBI, the Congress government in Chhattisgarh took a similar decision in 2019.
Speaking to The Indian Express then, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said:
"The first thing is that under the NDA government at the Centre, the credibility of the CBI is at peril. Therefore, it does not seem right that we allow the CBI to act as it pleases in our state. Second, we function through a system, and the way the CBI was let free to operate in the state, the law and order and state officers were being disturbed."
The Congress government in Rajasthan withdrew its general consent to the CBI in July 2020. The order came a day after the BJP demanded a CBI investigation into the leaked audio tapes containing an alleged conversation between rebel Congress MLAs and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
In October 2020, the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government curtailed the CBI's powers in the state, alleging that the central government was misusing probe agencies to settle political scores.
However, the newly formed Eknath Shinde government restored general consent in the state a few days ago.
In November 2020, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala withdrew consent to the CBI amid allegations that the central agency was targeting leaders in the state. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took the decision at a time when the CBI was probing various alleged irregularities in its Life Mission project, a housing initiative for the poor.
The Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand also adopted the order in November 2020. He had tweeted, "Now the CBI won't have the general permission to carry out an investigation in any case in the state, and they would require permission from the state government for the same."
Punjab emerged as yet another non-BJP-ruled state to withdraw general consent to the CBI in November 2020. Captain Amarinder Singh – a Congress leader at the time – was the chief minister of the state. He resigned from his post in 2021 owing to internal strife in the Congress party.
Despite being ruled by Conrad Sangma's National People's Party (NPP), which is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, Meghalaya moved against the CBI earlier this year in March. Reportedly, the order came at a time when several allegations of corruption had emerged in the state, especially in coal extraction and transportation.
(With inputs from The Indian Express.)
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