The withdrawal of ‘general consent’ to the CBI to undertake investigations in Andhra Pradesh by the Chandrababu Naidu Government last week is a retrograde step, certain to further embitter relations between the Centre and the State Government. There is a history to the controversial move by the TDP boss. Only a few days after the TDP quit the NDA over the denial of a special status to Andhra, the CBI raided a number of businessmen in connection with suspected criminal activity, including tax fraud.
These businessmen were widely known to be close to the Chief Minister, with some of them actually members of the TDP. Cut to the quick, Naidu cried foul, arguing that the raids were aimed at punishing him for quitting the NDA. The CBI denied the charge. A few days later, he took the extraordinary step of withdrawing general consent to the CBI to undertake investigations in the State. He followed it up with a similar ban on the Enforcement Directorate and another investigating agency, the central government. Consequently, the CBI will cease to carry on old, or start new, investigations in Andhra without the prior permission of the State government.
This can compromise the quality of investigations since secrecy of operations is often key in unearthing incriminating evidence. Not to be left behind, a couple of days after Naidu, Mamata Banerjee followed suit, withdrawing general consent to the central investigating agency to investigate cases in West Bengal. The reasons given were the same. It was alleged that the Modi Government misuses the CBI for political vendetta, that the CBI is a hand-maiden of the ruling party president Amit Shah, and he is misusing it to target those opposed to the NDA Government. There may be a degree of truth in what Naidu and Banerjee allege, but an outright withdrawal of permission to the CBI to undertake investigations would erode the federal structure, emasculating it for purely partisan reasons.
Both Naidu and Banerjee are entitled to carry on their political battles against the BJP, but dragging the CBI into it shows scant respect for the established administrative scheme of things. Central investigating agencies by general consent enjoy a free hand to investigate cases throughout the country, and not piecemeal on the whimsy of individual chief ministers. We cannot countenance a situation where central agencies will have their writ constrained depending on the political complexion of each state. Curiously, the Opposition parties in Andhra and West Bengal have decried the move by the respective State governments, echoing the charge by the BJP that the real motive behind the ban was to protect the corrupt elements in the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress.
Since both Naidu and Banerjee head anti-BJP governments, it is reasonable to suspect that the contagion might spread to other Opposition States, leaving the CBI free to operate only on those States which are politically aligned with the central government. At this rate, it can spell anarchy. Inter-State crime is on the increase. Though technically, police in each state require prior permission to enter another State for investigations, such a permission is virtually taken for granted. However, if Naidu’s and Banerjee’s examples were to be taken to their logical conclusion, criminals of one State could breathe easy, taking shelter in another State, certain in the knowledge that the police would not come looking for him.
In other words, let us not carry bitterness and rivalries of politics into the domain of police and civil administration in the country. Yes, CBI is often misused by the party in power at the Centre. But that is no reason to emasculate it by arbitrary and impulsive prohibitions against undertaking operations in the Opposition-ruled States. A via-media ought to be found through calm reflection. Otherwise, anarchic conditions will prevail. Leave the vital structures and tools of governance alone, instead of further blunting them to advance partisan agendas.