Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh government plans to enact a law that would give a criminal investigation unit in the state powers like the Central Bureau of Investigation, officials have said.
Officials from the state government told ThePrint that the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, ordered the state’s home ministry Thursday to draft a special law, the UP Special Police Establishment Act, along the lines of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act — the law that governs the CBI.
Additional chief secretary Awanish Awasthi told ThePrint that the new law aims at strengthening the state’s Special Investigation Team (SIT), currently headed by a Director General of Police-level officer. What that means and what the law would finally look like would be known only once the law, still in its nascent stages, is drafted, officials said.
Uttar Pradesh’s SIT is a multidisciplinary agency currently mandated to investigate corruption allegations against “influential people and public servants who misuse their high position or connection and indulge in the commission of irregularities of serious nature and economic offences”, the agency’s website says.
The CBI is the country’s premier investigation agency and is the only federal agency mandated to investigate corruption allegations against central government employees. Called the Special Police Establishment in its first avatar, the colonial-era agency was first set up in 1941 to investigate allegations of corruption in war-related procurements. It came under the Delhi Special Police Establishment in 1946.
The CBI in its current form was established in 1963 to investigate serious crimes related to corruption, black-marketing, embezzlement, and social crimes having all-India and inter-state ramifications.
Experts claim Uttar Pradesh’s step would be the first of its kind in India: although several states have law-backed police units, these are primarily security or protective forces to provide security and protection to special buildings. Some examples are the Maharashtra State Security Corporation (MSCC), Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF), and the UP Special Security Force (UPSSF).
Some states have special laws, such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) — a law that was extended to Delhi in 2002 — the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act, and the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act. But experts say the investigating teams that implement these laws are regular police units.
Uttar Pradesh has its own security force, called the special security force or SSF, governed by the Uttar Pradesh Special Security Force Act, 2020. The SSF, which has the power to arrest without a warrant, has powers similar to the Central Industrial Special Force (CISF) and is meant for the protection of courts, the Metro, industrial units, airports, banks, places of worship as well as individuals.
Officials said that the chief minister held a meeting Thursday with officials from home, prisons, homeguards, secretariat administration, recruitment, and personnel departments.
The officials said the home department has 100 days — just over three months — to start working on the new law.
“We have an SIT, which is an agency headed by a DG-level officer,” Additional chief secretary Awanish Awasthi told ThePrint. “However, right now, it does not have legal backing. The purpose (of the law) is to give it more powers and to ensure that corruption can be curbed.”
Neither he nor another senior bureaucrat privy to the discussions could say what the final draft would look like. “The plan is in the nascent stage at the moment. It has just begun,” the bureaucrat said.
‘What’s the need?’
“Why is this law necessary,” asked Tanveer Ahmed Mir, a defence lawyer and an expert on criminal law. Mir, who was a counsel in the infamous Aarushi murder, said states had the right the create new laws so long as they did not contravene central legislation but it was still unclear what the state government intended to do with the new law.
“The state of UP has already given general consent to the CBI to investigate a crime in a state,” Mir said. “This means that the CBI can investigate any case in UP. So, the question is what exactly will the new law that the state wants to enact, do? Is the UP police unable to tackle the law and order of the state under the existing CrPC 1973 and the IPC?”
Under the DSPE, the CBI needs a state government’s consent fore investigating a case in that state. This consent could be either case-specific or general. Nine states — Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, and Mizoram — have withdrawn general consent for CBI investigations. Except for Mizoram and Meghalaya, the rest of the states are ruled by the anti-BJP opposition.
The absence of general consent means the CBI will only be able to register a fresh case involving officials of the central government or a private person in that state.
A former head of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) told ThePrint that the agency’s existing mandate is already strong. He also said there was a proposal to have the SIT’s name changed to ensure it does not get mixed up with special investigation teams that are instituted at local levels for specific cases.
A senior UP police officer who has investigated many high-profile scams told ThePrint that the SIT in its current form requires permission to arrest.
“What new powers the SIT can get can only be clear once the draft proposal is out,” he said.
A former Uttar Pradesh DGP said the state had set up the SSF because it felt the need for an industrial security force,
“But a separate act for a criminal investigation unit is something new,” he said.
Mir also voiced concerns about possible misuse of the proposed law — false cases, police harassment, persecution of journalists, and violation of fundamental rights.
“Acts like TADA and POTA were struck down by the judiciary because it was realised that they were misused and in Mumbai, even an eight-year-old was booked under the TADA,” Mir said. “The way the state of UP is showing scant respect for part 3 of the Constitution and fundamental rights of citizens, it seems it is initiating another bulldozer theory against common citizens.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)