Supreme Court Holds West Bengal’s Suit Against Centre on CBI Jurisdiction Maintainable

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that the State of West Bengal can proceed with its lawsuit against the Union government challenging the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) jurisdiction to probe cases in the state without its consent.

Background:

The dispute arose after West Bengal withdrew its general consent for CBI investigations in the state on November 16, 2018. Despite this, the CBI continued to register and investigate cases in West Bengal, which the state government contended was unconstitutional and violated the federal structure.

Key Legal Issues:

1. Maintainability of the suit under Article 131 of the Constitution

2. Interpretation of “subject to the provisions of this Constitution” in Article 131

3. CBI’s jurisdiction and powers under the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act

4. Federal structure and state’s rights regarding police powers

Court’s Decision:

The Supreme Court rejected the Centre’s preliminary objections and allowed West Bengal’s suit to proceed on merits. Key observations include:

1. On maintainability: 

The court held that the suit is maintainable under Article 131, stating: “Article 131 of the Constitution is a special provision which deals with the original jurisdiction of this Court in case of a dispute between the Federal Government and the State Governments.”

2. On “subject to provisions” clause:

The court interpreted this narrowly, noting: “The words ‘subject to the provisions of this Constitution’ will have to be considered in that context. The jurisdiction under Article 131 of the Constitution would only be subject to any other provision in the Constitution which provides for entertaining a dispute between the parties mentioned therein.”

3. On CBI’s powers:

The court observed: “We find that the very establishment, exercise of powers, extension of jurisdiction, the superintendence of the DSPE, all vest with the Government of India.”

4. On federalism:

The judgment emphasized: “Section 6 of the DSPE Act is the statutory recognition of the principle of federalism which forms a part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.”

Justice Gavai noted: “We find that, in the present suit, the plaintiff is raising the legal issue as to whether after withdrawal of the consent under Section 6 of the DSPE Act, the CBI via the defendant – Union of India can continue to register and investigate cases in its area in violation of the provisions of Section 6 of the DSPE Act.”

The court clarified that its findings are only for deciding the preliminary objection and will not affect the merits of the suit. The case will now proceed for framing of issues, with the next hearing scheduled for August 13, 2024.

This ruling is significant as it allows a constitutional challenge to the CBI’s powers and could have far-reaching implications for center-state relations and the federal structure of India.

Case Details:

– Original Suit No. 4 of 2021

– Parties: State of West Bengal (Plaintiff) vs Union of India (Defendant)

– Bench: Justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta

– Lawyers: Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Bishwajit Bhattacharya (for West Bengal); Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General (for Union of India)

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