The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the constitutional validity of courts' powers to order Central Bureau of Investigation probe without the consent of state governments, with a rider that this should be used cautiously and sparingly.
In a unanimous verdict, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan said such powers have to be exercised cautiously by the apex court and the high courts.
The bench, also comprising Justices R V Raveendran, D K Jain, P Sathasivam and J M Panchal, however, said that such powers have to be used sparingly in exceptional and extraordinary circumstances in cases having national and international ramifications.
Otherwise, the CBI will be flooded with such directions in routine cases, the bench said. Such powers are vested with the apex court and high courts to ensure protection of fundamental rights of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution, it said.
The verdict came on a bunch of petitions by the West Bengal government and some others who contended that the CBI can conduct a probe in any state only with prior consent of the concerned government under the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.
The state government had contended that neither the high court nor the apex court has the power to order a CBI probe into allegation of scandals or on any other issue.
It had also submitted that the power to order a CBI probe was solely vested with the respective state governments and even the central government had no power to order a probe by the central agency unless the state concerned gave its consent.
The Centre, however, had contended that there was no restriction on high courts and apex court to order a CBI probe into sensitive cases having national and international ramifications.
West Bengal was the main petitioner in this case as it had taken exception to the Calcutta high court order for a CBI probe into the Midnapore firing incidents in which several Trinamool Congress workers were killed.
"There is no restriction on the powers of the courts (high courts and apex court) under Articles 226 and 32 of the Constitution for ordering CBI probe in a case," the Centre had said, adding such power has been with the courts to protect the fundamental rights of citizens.
Opposing the Centre's stand, West Bengal had said that if such powers were vested with the apex court or high courts, it would affect the federal structure of the Constitution.
In recent years, the Supreme Court and also various high courts had been ordering probe by CBI into high-profile cases.