The Bengal government on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing of an original suit accusing the centre and central probe agencies of violating the federal structure by continuing to register cases in the state despite the withdrawal of general consent.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra mentioned the suit – filed under Article 131 of the constitution, which gives the court original jurisdiction to hear disputes between the centre and a state government, or between two states – before Chief Justice NV Ramana’s bench for urgent hearing.
The request for the urgent hearing comes a day after the state’s challenge of a Calcutta High Court order permitting a CBI probe into alleged post-poll violence. The court had ordered the agency to probe charges of rape, murder and crimes against women after the April-May election.
“Even after three years of the state withdrawing general consent to the CBI for registration of cases related to incidents in Bengal, the agency continues to violate federal structure of governance by registering case suo motu,” the state government said in court.
“Law and order, and police were put, as per the constitution, under the exclusive jurisdiction of the states,” the state added.
It pointed out that it had withdrawn general consent – that is, permission of the state government for central agencies like the CBI to conduct investigations in its territory – in 2018.
“Bengal government withdrew general consent in 2018. Even after that the CBI has registered 12 cases related to incidents that took place in Bengal,” the state said, claiming this to be “illegal and a transgression of the constitutionally distributed powers between the centre and states”.
For two years after the Bengal government withdrew general consent the CBI did not file any cases, apart from those ordered by Calcutta High Court or the Supreme Court, in the state.
However, in September last year two were filed, based on a March 2020 Calcutta High Court order that allowed the CBI to register and probe cases against central employees.
Since then 12 have been filed, including the alleged multi-crore scam related to Eastern Coalfields Limited, on the basis of which the Enforcement Directorate registered a money-laundering case.
The centre-state clash over general consent also comes as central agencies investigate Trinamool Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee in connection with the coal scam case.
Mr Banerjee and his wife, Rujira, were directed to appear in Delhi for questioning. Rujira Banerjee was due to appear yesterday, but asked to be questioned in Kolkata citing her young children.
Mr Banerjee and his wife have denied all charges.
A separate hearing is underway in the Supreme Court to determine the legitimacy of the FIR in that case; the alleged scam took place in an area under the centre’s control.
Since 2018 several opposition-ruled states have withdrawn general consent, including Punjab, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, amid protests and allegations that the BJP-led government at the centre was misusing agencies to harass political opponents.
Mamata Banerjee, among the fiercest and most vocal critics of Prime Minister Modi and his government, has slammed the CBI as a tool of the government used to punish political opponents.