The Centre-state trust deficit is hurting CBI

A change in government in Maharashtra appears to have brought on a change in the attitude of the administration towards the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Last week, the Eknath Shinde government restored the general consent given to the federal agency to enable it to investigate cases in Maharashtra, reversing a 2020 decision by the previous Uddhav Thackeray administration that had revoked this permission. At the time, the then Maha Vikas Aghadi government alleged that the Centre was using the agency to target Opposition parties. As a result, CBI’s probes in the state were hampered; the agency told Parliament this year that it was unable to start investigating 101 cases of banking fraud due to the denial of consent.

This episode shows no one in a good light. It is clear that the denial of consent is a political decision that is influenced only by which dispensation is in power, not any material consideration related to law enforcement. At the same time, the denial of consent in eight states ruled by parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party — Punjab, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, and Meghalaya — since 2015 points to a deeper malaise. Opposition parties see central agencies only as tools that the ruling party uses against them, a perception bound to tarnish the standing of CBI and hurt its operation in the country. This is also a portend to the tensions simmering under the surface of our federal structure, which have become more pronounced in recent years. This erosion of trust and a lack of a working relationship between the Centre and states doesn’t augur well for India and should be repaired in earnest.

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