BY Harpreet Kaur, Advocate

Bench: Justice P Sathasivam, Justice B.S. Chauhan, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S.A. Bobde

Dated: 12 November, 2013

Citation: (2014) 2 SCC 1

FACTS

  • One writ petition, under Article 32 of the Constitution, was filed by Lalita Kumari (minor) through her father, viz., Shri Bhola Kamat for the issuance of a writ of Habeas Corpus or direction(s) of like nature against the respondents for the protection of his minor daughter who has been kidnapped. The grievance in the said writ petition was that on 11.05.2008, a written report was submitted by the petitioner before the officer in-charge of the police station concerned who did not take any action on the same. Thereafter, when a representation to Superintendent of Police was moved, an FIR was registered. According to the petitioner, even thereafter, steps were not taken either for apprehending the accused or for the recovery of the minor girl child.

PROCEEDINGS AT SUPREME COURT

  • A two-Judge Bench of Hon’ble Supreme Court in, Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. (2008) 7 SCC 164, after noticing the disparity in registration of FIRs by police officers on case to case basis across the country, issued notice to the Union of India, the Chief Secretaries of all the States and Union Territories and Director Generals of Police/Commissioners of Police to the effect that if steps are not taken for registration of FIRs immediately and the copies thereof are not handed over to the complainants, they may move the Magistrates concerned by filing complaint petitions for appropriate direction(s) to the police to register the case immediately and for apprehending the accused persons, failing which, contempt proceedings must be initiated against such delinquent police officers if no sufficient cause is shown.
  • Pursuant to the above directions, when the matter was heard by the very same Bench in Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. (2008) 14 SCC 337, Mr. S.B. Upadhyay, learned senior counsel for the petitioner, projected his claim that upon receipt of information by a police officer in-charge of a police station disclosing a cognizable offence, it is imperative for him to register a case under Section 154 of the Code and placed reliance upon two-Judge Bench decisions of this Court in State of Haryana vs. Bhajan Lal1992 Supp. (1) SCC 335, Ramesh Kumar vs. State (NCT of Delhi) (2006) 2 SCC 677 and Parkash Singh Badal vs. State of Punjab (2007) 1 SCC 1. On the other hand, Mr. Shekhar Naphade, learned senior counsel for the State of Maharashtra submitted that an officer in- charge of a police station is not obliged under law, upon receipt of information disclosing commission of a cognizable offence, to register a case rather the discretion lies with him, in appropriate cases, to hold some sort of preliminary inquiry in relation to the veracity or otherwise of the accusations made in the report. In support of his submission, he placed reliance upon two-Judge Bench decisions of this Court in P. Sirajuddin vs. State of Madras (1970) 1 SCC 595, Sevi vs. State of Tamil Nadu 1981 Supp SCC 43, Shashikant vs. Central Bureau of Investigation (2007) 1 SCC 630, and Rajinder Singh Katoch vs. Chandigarh Admn. (2007) 10 SCC 69. In view of the conflicting decisions of this Court on the issue, the said bench, vide order dated 16.09.2008, referred the same to a larger bench.
  • Ensuing compliance to the above direction, the matter pertaining to Lalita Kumari was heard by a Bench of three-Judges in Lalita Kumari vs. Government of Uttar Pradesh & Ors. (2012) 4 SCC 1 wherein, this Court, after hearing various counsel representing Union of India, States and Union Territories and also after adverting to all the conflicting decisions extensively, referred the matter to a Constitution Bench.

ISSUE INVOLVED

Whether under Section 154 CrPC, a police officer is bound to register an FIR when a cognizable offence is made out or he (police officer) has an option, discretion or latitude of conducting some kind of preliminary inquiry before registering the FIR?

CONTENTIONS OF THE ADVOCATES

  • S.B. Upadhyay, learned senior counsel for petitioner, while explaining the conditions mentioned in Section 154 submitted that Section 154(1) is mandatory as the use of the word “shall” is indicative of the statutory intent of the legislature. He also contended that there is no discretion left to the police officer except to register an FIR. He further drew attention to the language used in Section 154(1) of the Code, contended that it merely mentions information without prefixing the words reasonable or credible.
  • Ashok Dhamija, learned counsel for the CBI, submitted that the use of the word “shall” under Section 154(1) of the Code clearly mandates that if the information given to a police officer relates to the commission of a cognizable offence, then it is mandatory for him to register the offence. According to learned counsel, in such circumstances, there is no option or discretion given to the police. He further contended that the word “shall” clearly implies a mandate and is unmistakably indicative of the statutory intent. What is necessary, according to him, is only that the information given to the police must disclose commission of a cognizable offence. He also contended that Section 154 of the Code uses the word “information” simplifier and does not use the qualified words such as “credible information” or “reasonable complaint”. Thus, the intention of the Parliament is unequivocally clear from the language employed that mere information relating to commission of a cognizable offence is sufficient to register an FIR.
  • Manish Singhvi, learned Additional Advocate General for the State of Rajasthan, submitted that Section 154(1) of the Code mandates compulsory registration of FIR.
  • Shekhar Naphade, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the State of Maharashtra, submitted that ordinarily the Station House Officer (SHO) should record an FIR upon receiving a complaint disclosing the ingredients of a cognizable offence, but in certain situations, in case of doubt about the correctness or credibility of the information, he should have the discretion of holding a preliminary inquiry and thereafter, if he is satisfied that there is a prima facie case for investigation, register the FIR. A mandatory duty of registering FIR should not be cast upon him. According to him, this interpretation would harmonize two extreme positions, viz., the proposition that the moment the complaint disclosing ingredients of a cognizable offence is lodged, the police officer must register an FIR without any scrutiny whatsoever is an extreme proposition and is contrary to the mandate of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, similarly, the other extreme point of view is that the police officer must investigate the case substantially before registering an FIR. Accordingly, he pointed out that both must be rejected and a middle path must be chosen. He also submitted that before registering an FIR under Section 154 of the Code, it is open to the police officer to hold a preliminary inquiry to ascertain whether there is a prima facie case of commission of a cognizable offence or not.
  • Vibha Datta Makhija, learned senior counsel appearing for the State of Madhya Pradesh submitted that a plain reading of Section 154 and other provisions of the Code shows that it may not be mandatory but is absolutely obligatory on the part of the police officer to register an FIR prior to taking any steps or conducting investigation into a cognizable offence. She further pointed out that after receiving the first information of an offence and prior to the registration of the said report (whether oral or written) in the First Information Book maintained at the police station under various State Government regulations, only some preliminary inquiry or investigative steps are permissible under the statutory framework of the Code to the extent as is justifiable and is within the window of statutory discretion granted strictly for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been a commission or not of a cognizable offence.

OBSERVATIONS OF SUPREME COURT

  • The FIR is a pertinent document in the criminal law procedure of our country and its main object from the point of view of the informant is to set the criminal law in motion and from the point of view of the investigating authorities is to obtain information about the alleged criminal activity so as to be able to take suitable steps to trace and to bring to book the guilty.
  • Historical experience has thrown up cases from both the sides where the grievance of the victim/informant of non-registration of valid FIRs as well as that of the accused of being unnecessarily harassed and investigated upon false charges have been found to be correct.
  • The legal mandate enshrined in Section 154(1) is that every information relating to the commission of a “cognizable offence” (as defined Under Section 2(c) of the Code) if given orally (in which case it is to be reduced into writing) or in writing to “an officer incharge of a police station” (within the meaning of Section 2(o) of the Code) and signed by the informant should be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the State Government may prescribe which form is commonly called as “First Information Report” and which act of entering the information in the said form is known as registration of a crime or a case.
  • At the stage of registration of a crime or a case on the basis of the information disclosing a cognizable offence in compliance with the mandate of Section 154(1) of the Code, the concerned police officer cannot embark upon an inquiry as to whether the information, laid by the informant is reliable and genuine or otherwise and refuse to register a case on the ground that the information is not reliable or credible. On the other hand, the officer in charge of a police station is statutorily obliged to register a case and then to proceed with the investigation if he has reason to suspect the commission of an offence which he is empowered under Section 156 of the Code to investigate, subject to the proviso to Section 157.
  • In Section 154(1) of the Code, the legislature in its collective wisdom has carefully and cautiously used the expression “information” without qualifying the same as in Section 41(1)(a) or (g) of the Code wherein the expressions, “reasonable complaint” and “credible information” are used. Evidently, the non- qualification of the word “information” in Section 154(1) unlike in Section 41(1)(a) and (g) of the Code may be for the reason that the police officer should not refuse to record an information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence and to register a case thereon on the ground that he is not satisfied with the reasonableness or credibility of the information. In other words, “reasonableness” or “credibility” of the said information is not a condition precedent for registration of a case.
  • A comparison of the present Section 154 with those of the earlier Codes will indicate that the legislature had purposely thought it fit to employ only the word “information” without qualifying the said word. Section 139 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1861 (Act 25 of 1861) passed by the Legislative Council of India read that “every complaint or information” preferred to an officer in charge of a police station should be reduced into writing which provision was subsequently modified by Section 112 of the Code of 1872 (Act 10 of 1872) which thereafter read that “every complaint” preferred to an officer in charge of a police station shall be reduced in writing. The word “complaint” which occurred in previous two Codes of 1861 and 1872 was deleted and in that place the word “information” was used in the Codes of 1882 and 1898 which word is now used in Sections 154, 155, 157 and 190(c) of the present Code of 1973 (Act 2 of 1974). An overall reading of all the Codes makes it clear that the condition which is sine qua non for recording a first information report is that there must be information and that information must disclose a cognizable offence.
  • Consequently, if any information disclosing a cognizable offence is led before an officer in charge of the police station satisfying the requirement of Section 154(1), the said police officer has no other option except to enter the substance thereof in the prescribed form, that is to say, to register a case on the basis of such information.
  • The provision of Section 154 of the Code is mandatory and the concerned officer is duty bound to register the case on the basis of information disclosing a cognizable offence. Thus, the plain words of Section 154(1) of the Code have to be given their literal meaning.
  • The use of the word “shall” in Section 154(1) of the Code clearly shows the legislative intent that it is mandatory to register an FIR if the information given to the police discloses the commission of a cognizable offence.
  • The Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System headed by Dr. Justice V.S. Malimath also noticed: “According to the Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the office in-charge of a police station is mandated to register every information oral or written relating to the commission of a cognizable offence. Non-registration of cases is a serious complaint against the police.  The Committee recommends that all complaints should be registered promptly, failing which appropriate action should be taken. This would necessitate change in the mindset of the political executive and that of senior officers. There are two more aspects relating to registration. The first is minimization of offences by the police by way of not invoking appropriate sections of law. We disapprove of this tendency. Appropriate sections of law should be invoked in each case unmindful of the gravity of offences involved. The second issue is relating to the registration of written complaints. There is an increasing tendency amongst the police station officers to advise the informants, who come to give oral complaints, to bring written complaints. This is wrong. Registration is delayed resulting in valuable loss of time in launching the investigation and apprehension of criminals. Besides, the complainant gets an opportunity to consult his friends, relatives and sometimes even lawyers and often tends to exaggerate the crime and implicate innocent persons. This eventually has adverse effect at the trial. The information should be reduced in writing by the SHO, if given orally, without any loss of time so that the first version of the alleged crime comes on record.
  • Stimulating argument raised in support of preliminary inquiry is that mandatory registration of FIRs will lead to arbitrary arrest, which will directly be in contravention of Article 21 of the Constitution. While registration of FIR is mandatory, arrest of the accused immediately on registration of FIR is not at all mandatory. In fact, registration of FIR and arrest of an accused person are two entirely different concepts under the law, and there are several safeguards available against arrest. Moreover, it is also pertinent to mention that an accused person also has a right to apply for “anticipatory bail” under the provisions of Section 438 of the Code if the conditions mentioned therein are satisfied. Thus, in appropriate cases, he can avoid the arrest under that provision by obtaining an order from the Court.
  • A delicate balance has to be maintained between the interest of the society and protecting the liberty of an individual. As already discussed above, there are already sufficient safeguards provided in the Code which duly protect the liberty of an individual in case of registration of false FIR. At the same time, Section 154 was drafted keeping in mind the interest of the victim and the society. Therefore, we are of the cogent view that mandatory registration of FIRs under Section 154 of the Code will not be in contravention of Article 21 of the Constitution as purported by various counsel.

DIRECTIONS ISSUED

It was held:

i) Registration of FIR is mandatory under Section 154 of the Code, if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation.

ii) If the information received does not disclose a cognizable offence but indicates the necessity for an inquiry, a preliminary inquiry may be conducted only to ascertain whether cognizable offence is disclosed or not.

iii) If the inquiry discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, the FIR must be registered. In cases where preliminary inquiry ends in closing the complaint, a copy of the entry of such closure must be supplied to the first informant forthwith and not later than one week. It must disclose reasons in brief for closing the complaint and not proceeding further.

iv) The police officer cannot avoid his duty of registering offence if cognizable offence is disclosed. Action must be taken against erring officers who do not register the FIR if information received by him discloses a cognizable offence.

v) The scope of preliminary inquiry is not to verify the veracity or otherwise of the information received but only to ascertain whether the information reveals any cognizable offence.

vi) As to what type and in which cases preliminary inquiry is to be conducted will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. The category of cases in which preliminary inquiry may be made are as under:

  1. Matrimonial disputes/ family disputes
  2. Commercial offences
  3. Medical negligence cases
  4. Corruption cases
  5. Cases where there is abnormal delay/laches in initiating criminal prosecution, for example, over 3 months delay in reporting the matter without satisfactorily explaining the reasons for delay.

The aforesaid are only illustrations and not exhaustive of all conditions which may warrant preliminary inquiry.

vii) While ensuring and protecting the rights of the accused and the complainant, a preliminary inquiry should be made time bound and in any case it should not exceed 7 days. The fact of such delay and the causes of it must be reflected in the General Diary entry.

viii) Since the General Diary/Station Diary/Daily Diary is the record of all information received in a police station, we direct that all information relating to cognizable offences, whether resulting in registration of FIR or leading to an inquiry, must be mandatorily and meticulously reflected in the said Diary and the decision to conduct a preliminary inquiry must also be reflected, as mentioned above.

Picture courtesy: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/FIR-must-in-complaints-about-serious-offences-Supreme-Court/articleshow/25662660.cms

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