The Sena-NCP-Congress government’s order represents a clear escalation of tensions with the BJP-led government in New Delhi and is based, according to state public works minister Ashok Chavan, on an apprehension – as reported by this paper on Tuesday – that the CBI might seek to wade into the Mumbai police’s investigation of alleged manipulation of viewership ratings by Republic TV and four other channels.
Few state governments have chosen to exercise the power to withdraw “general consent” to CBI to investigate cases within their geographical jurisdiction. Maharashtra is currently the fourth, besides West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh – all opposition-governed.
The CBI is governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, which makes consent of a state must for conducting a probe in that state. The consent the state had given to members of Delhi Police Establishment on February 22, 1989 was withdrawn through its Wednesday order.
The decision to block the CBI was taken at a meeting presided over by CM Uddhav Thackeray and attended by Ashok Chavan, chief secretary Sanjay Kumar, principal adviser to the CM Ajoy Mehta and the CM’s additional chief secretary Ashish Kumar Singh.
Chavan told TOI that after deliberations, it was decided that the consent granted to the CBI should be withdrawn with immediate effect in the larger interests of the state. “We did discuss the ongoing probe into the TRP scam. Fears were expressed that CBI may take over the probe, therefore it was felt that consent granted to CBI in 1989 should be withdrawn. I am told Maharashtra is among the few states that have withdrawn consent,’’ Chavan said.
As a result, the CBI will not be able to unilaterally step in to inquire into the TRP scam, a senior government official said. TOI in its edition of Tuesday had reported police officials in Mumbai saying, “they would not be surprised if CBI attempted to take over their case on grounds that the alleged TRP scam cuts across state boundaries”.
“They said they would resist such a move. The coalition government has been at odds with the BJP-led government at the Centre over a number of issues, and this could become the latest flashpoint,” the report had added. In a petition before the Bombay high court on Monday, Republic TV had sought the transfer of the Mumbai police case to the CBI.
Chavan alleged that in the recent past, it had been seen that the NDA government was “interfering too much in the day-to-day affairs of state governments, particularly the non-BJP-ruled states.” “It’s not an acceptable situation, we are a democratically elected government and it is wrong to interfere,” he said.
The minister said it appeared to be the “political agenda” of the NDA government to “create trouble for non-BJP ruled state governments.” “When Mumbai police are doing the finest job not only in the TRP but in all cases, why we should entrust the probe to CBI? It is blatantly wrong to undermine the professional competence of the Mumbai police. I am sure the probe into the TRP scam will be taken to its logical end,” Chavan noted, adding, “Of course, we have no objection if the probe is entrusted to the CBI following the directives of the HC or Supreme Court.”