In a big setback to Maharashtra government which never wanted CBI probe in Sushant Singh Rajput case, the Supreme Court in this high profile case titled Rhea Chakraborty Vs. State of Bihar & Ors. in Transfer Petition (Crl.) No. 225 of 2020 delivered on August 19, 2020 has in no uncertain terms clearly, categorically and convincingly upheld the Bihar Government’s order to transfer the probe in the case related to the death of the Bollywood actor – Sushant Singh Rajput to CBI. Sushant was found dead in his house in suburban Bandra in Mumbai on June 14. Rhea’s lawyer Shyam Divan who is a senior and eminent lawyer of Apex Court argued that Rhea had no qualms with the case being transferred to the CBI but not at the behest of the executive orders of the Bihar Government. Another senior and eminent advocate – Vikas Singh who appeared for Sushant’s father urged the top court to hand over the case of the late actor’s mysterious death to CBI!
Most intriguingly, the Bombay Police had inexplicably and questionably failed to lodge an FIR even after the lapse of 65 days till now which undoubtedly has created bona fide and serious lingering doubts on its neutrality, credibility and commitment to resolve this case in fairness according to the rule of law! On the contrary, Bihar police had promptly lodged the FIR as soon as they received the complaint from the deceased actor’s father KK Singh at Rajiv Nagar police station in Patna against Rhea and six others including her family members for abetting the actor’s suicide which enhanced its credibility in the eyes of the people!
No doubt, a mandatory time limit of 24 or at the most 48 hours must be fixed within which the police must be made to register the FIR and strictest action must be taken against those police officials who refuse to lodge the FIR. Time and again we keep hearing many such cases where police either refuses to lodge an FIR or forwards some excuse or the other for not lodging an FIR which defeats the very purpose for which it is lodged! It is a long pending reform that is still in waiting queue and now it is high time that it be implemented at the earliest! This will help the litigants a lot especially the victims in their quest for justice and not further rub salt on their deep wounds further!
To be sure, a single Bench of Apex Court of Justice Hrishikesh Roy held that Bihar police had jurisdiction to register FIR with respect to the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput at the complaint of the actor’s father and held that the transfer to CBI was valid. The Apex Court has directed the Maharashtra police to hand over the case files to CBI and to render necessary assistance. The Apex Court held clearly that, “It is court ordered CBI investigation. Maharashtra police must comply and assist.” Very rightly so!
To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this notable judgment wherein it is observed that, “This Transfer Petition is filed under section 406 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “CrPC”) read with Order XXXIX of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 with prayer for transfer of the FIR No. 241 of 2020 (dated 25.7.2020) under Sections 341, 342, 380, 406, 420, 306, 506 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short “IPC”) registered at the Rajeev Nagar Police Station, Patna and all consequential proceedings from the jurisdiction of the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate III, Patna Sadar, to the Additional Chief Magistrate, Bandra, Mumbai. The matter relates to the unnatural death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput on 14.6.2020 at his Bandra residence at Mumbai. The deceased resided within Bandra Police Station jurisdiction and there itself, the unnatural death under section 174 of CrPC was reported.”
While elaborating on the petitioner’s version, it is then enunciated in para 2 that, “The petitioner is a friend of the deceased, and she too is in the acting field since last many years. As regards the allegations against the petitioner in the FIR, the petitioner claims that she has been falsely implicated in the Patna FIR, filed by Krishan Kishor Singh (respondent no. 2) – the father of the deceased actor. The petitioner and the deceased were in a live-in relationship but on 8.6.2020, a few days prior to the death of the actor, she had shifted to her own residence at Mumbai. According to the petitioner, the Mumbai Police is competent to undertake the investigation, even for the FIR lodged at Patna.”
To put things in perspective, it is then disclosed in para 5 that, “Representing the State of Bihar, Mr. Maninder Singh, the learned Senior Counsel submits that the Complaint disclosed a cognizable offence and therefore, it was incumbent for the Patna Police to register the FIR and proceed with the investigation. Since allegations of criminal breach of trust, Cheating and defalcation of money from the account of the deceased are alleged, the consequences of the offence are projected to be within the jurisdiction of the State of Bihar. The Senior Counsel highlights that the Mumbai Police was conducting the enquiry into the unnatural death of the actor u/s 174, 175 CrPC and such proceeding being limited to ascertaining the case of death, does not empower Mumbai Police to undertake any investigation, on the allegations in the Complaint of the Respondent No. 2, without registration of an FIR at Mumbai . Referring to the non-cooperation and obstruction of the Maharashtra authorities to the SIT of Bihar Police which reached Mumbai on 27.07.2020 and the quarantined detention of the Superintendent of Police, Patna who had reached Mumbai on 02.08.2020, senior counsel argues that the Mumbai Police was trying to suppress the real facts and were not conducting a fair and professional inquiry. Since no investigation relatable to the allegations in the complaint was being conducted and FIR was not registered by the Mumbai Police, the action of the Bihar Police in registering the Complaint, is contended to be legally justified. On that basis, the Bihar Government’s consent for entrustment of the investigation to the CBI is submitted to satisfy the requirement of Section 6 of the DSPE Act. Besides, as the petitioner herself has called for a CBI investigation and as the CBI has since registered a case and commenced their investigation, (on the request of the State of Bihar), the Senior Counsel submits that this transfer petition is infructuous.”
As it turned out, it is then held in para 20 that, “In the present case, the Mumbai Police has attempted to stretch the purview of Section 174 without drawing up any FIR and therefore, as it appears, no investigation pursuant to commission of a cognizable offence is being carried out by the Mumbai police. They are yet to register a FIR. Nor they have made a suitable determination, in terms of Section 175(2) CrPC. Therefore, it is pre-emptive and premature to hold that a parallel investigation is being carried out by the Mumbai Police. In case of a future possibility of cognizance being taken by two courts in different jurisdictions, the issue could be resolved under Section 186 CrPC and other applicable laws. No opinion is therefore expressed on a future contingency and the issue is left open to be decided, if needed, in accordance with law.”
As a corollary, para 21 then holds that, “Following the above, it is declared that the inquiry conducted under Section 174 CrPC by the Mumbai police is limited for a definite purpose but is not an investigation of a crime under Section 157 of the CrPC.”
To state the palpable, it is then rightly pointed out in para 30 that, “Having regard to the law enunciated by this Court as noted above, it must be held that the Patna police committed no illegality in registering the Complaint. Looking at the nature of the allegations in the Complaint which also relate to misappropriation and breach of trust, the exercise of jurisdiction by the Bihar Police appears to be in order. At the stage of investigation, they were not required to transfer the FIR to Mumbai police. For the same reason, the Bihar government was competent to give consent for entrustment of investigation to the CBI and as such the ongoing investigation by the CBI is held to be lawful.”
Be it noted, the Bench then observes in para 36 that, “The ongoing investigation by the CBI is held to be lawful. In the event a new case is registered at Mumbai on the same issue, in the fitness of things, it would be appropriate if the latter case too gets investigated by the same agency, on the strength of this Court’s order. Such enabling order will make it possible for the CBI to investigate the new case, avoiding the rigors of Section 6 of the DSPE Act, requiring consent from the State of Maharashtra.”
Most significantly, it is then held unequivocally in para 40 that, “The actor Sushant Singh Rajput was a talented actor in the Mumbai film world and died well before his full potential could be realised. His family, friends and admirers are keenly waiting the outcome of the investigation so that all the speculations floating around can be put to rest. Therefore a fair, competent and impartial investigation is the need of the hour. The expected outcome then would be, a measure of justice for the Complainant, who lost his only son. For the petitioner too, it will be the desired justice as she herself called for a CBI investigation. The dissemination of the real facts through unbiased investigation would certainly result in justice for the innocents, who might be the target of vilification campaign. Equally importantly, when integrity and credibility of the investigation is discernible, the trust, faith and confidence of the common man in the judicial process will resonate. When truth meets sunshine, justice will not prevail on the living alone but after Life’s fitful fever, now the departed will also sleep well. Satyameva Jayate.”
Truth be told, it is then stated in para 41 that, “In such backdrop, to ensure public confidence in the investigation and to do complete justice in the matter, this Court considers it appropriate to invoke the powers conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution. As a Court exercising lawful jurisdiction for the assigned roster, no impediment is seen for exercise of plenary power in the present matter. Therefore while according approval for the ongoing CBI investigation, if any other case is registered on the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the surrounding circumstances of his unnatural death, the CBI is directed to investigate the new case as well. It is ordered accordingly.” About this inherent powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, we see that the same has been discussed in detail in para 37 also while dwelling on the case of Monica Kumar (Dr.) and Anr. Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others (2008) 8 SCC 781 pointing out when it can be invoked to render justice.
It is a no-brainer that if the Bombay Police had lodged FIR in time and had followed the proper procedure, the Supreme Court would never have ordered CBI to investigate this sensational Sushant death case! While it conceded that there was nothing to show any wrongdoing by the Mumbai police but as it had not yet initiated an FIR even after 65 days and was carrying out a limited inquiry under Section 174 of CrPC pertaining to inquiry into unnatural death, it lost the plot and ultimately the case was handed out to CBI! All the police of all the States in India must always be very careful of lodging the FIR in time as if they don’t do then they will have to face the consequences as we see in this case also!
No doubt, all those who are in police must read the relevant part of para 23 of this landmark judgment which clearly, categorically and convincingly states that, “Registration of FIR is mandated when information on cognizable offence is received by the police. Precedents suggest that at the stage of investigation, it cannot be said that the concerned police station does not have territorial jurisdiction to investigate the case. On this aspect the ratio in Lalita Kumari Vs. Govt. of UP (2014) 2 SCC 1 is relevant where on behalf of the Constitution Bench, Chief Justice P Sathasivam, pronounced as under:-
“120.1. The 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.
120.2. 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.””
It is high time and now Centre must also take the requisite steps to make it mandatory for the police to lodge an FIR within a stipulated time frame so that the litigants especially the victims are not traumatized further after the crime has occurred! Also, what is most important is that strictest action must be stipulated against all those policemen who refuse to lodge FIR! It brooks no more delay now!
It goes without saying that people must also be given an alternative to lodge an FIR if police refuses with some other duly constituted body like the State Human Rights Commission or some other body so that people don’t have to suffer interminably as we repeatedly hear cases of police refusing to lodge FIR and instead building pressure on the victim to keep quiet! How can this huge injustice be tolerated any longer? Why should it be allowed any longer?
Bluntly put: Why can’t men in uniform in police be straightaway dismissed from service for refusing to lodge FIR? Why can’t they also be sent to jail for ten to fourteen years for refusing to lodge FIR? Only strong will power is needed which is there in abundance in this present dispensation as we saw when they amended Article 370 of the Constitution! But the moot question is: Will this Government show equal interest on this also?