Lalita kumari case is an important case in criminal law. The case arose after the writ petition under 32 for habeas corpus was filed before the supreme court, to produce ‘Lalita kumari’, the minor daughter of ‘Bhola kamat’.
Lalita kumari, aged about six years, was missing, when she couldn’t be traced, Bhola kamat filed a missing complaint. Later, he came to know that his daughter has been kidnapped. But, the police did not take any action on his complaint.
Aggrieved by the inaction of the local police, Bhola Kamat made a representation to the Senior Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad. On the directions of the Superintendent of Police, Ghaziabad, the police station Loni, Ghaziabad registered a First Information Report (F.I.R.) under Sections 363/366/506/120B IPC against the private respondents.
Even after registration of the FIR against the private respondents, the police did not take any action to trace Lalita Kumari. According to the allegation of Bhola Kamat, he was asked to pay money for initiating investigation and to arrest the accused persons. Ultimately, the petitioner filed petition under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Court.
The question before the court
“Whether under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, a police officer is bound to register an FIR when a cognizable offence is made out or he has some latitude of conducting some kind of preliminary enquiry before registering the FIR?”
Therefore, the question before Constitution Bench in this case, was related to the interpretation of Section 154 of the Code and incidentally to consider Sections 156 and 157 also.
Before discussing further, it is useful to refer the following Sections of the Code: –
154. Information in cognizable cases.
(1) Every information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence, if given orally to an officer in charge of a police station, shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction, and be read over to the informant;
and every such information, whether as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it, and the substance thereof shall be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the State Government may prescribe in this behalf.
(2) A copy of the information shall be given forthwith, free of cost, to the informant.
(3) Any person aggrieved by a refusal on the part of an officer in charge of a police station to record the information referred to in subsection (1) may send the substance of such information, in writing and by post, to the Superintendent of Police concerned who, if satisfied that such information discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, shall either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him, in the manner provided by this Code, and such officer shall have all the powers of an officer in charge of the police station in relation to that offence.
156. Police officer’s power to investigate cognizable case.
(1) Any officer in charge of a police station may, without the order of a Magistrate, investigate any cognizable case which a Court having jurisdiction over the local area within the limits of such station would have power to inquire into or try.
157. Procedure for investigation:
(1) If, from information received or otherwise, an officer in charge of a police station has reason to suspect the commission of an offence which he is empowered under Section 156 to investigate,
he shall forthwith send a report of the same to a Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of such offence upon a police report and shall proceed in person, or shall depute one of his subordinate officers not being below such rank as the State Government may, by general or special order, prescribe in this behalf, to proceed, to the spot, to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case, and, if necessary, to take measures for the discovery and arrest of the offender:
(a) when information as to the commission of any such offence is given against any person by name and the case is not of a serious nature, the officer in charge of a police station need not proceed in person or depute a subordinate officer to make an investigation on the spot;
(b) if it appears to the officer in charge of a police station that there is no sufficient ground for entering on an investigation, he shall not investigate the case.
(2) In each of the cases mentioned in clauses (a) and (b) of the proviso to sub- section (1), the officer in charge of the police station shall state in his report his reasons for not fully complying with the requirements of that sub-section, and, in the case mentioned in clause (b) of the said proviso, the officer shall also forthwith notify to the informant, if any, in such manner as may be prescribed by the State Government, the fact that he will not investigate the case or cause it to be investigated.
After mentioning the facts and provisions, the court further discussed the matter under consideration. The court said,
The condition that is sine qua non for recording an FIR under Section 154 of the Code is that there must be information and that information must disclose a cognizable offence. 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.
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.
It is relevant to mention that the object of using the word shall in the context of Section 154(1) of the Code is to ensure that all information relating to all cognizable offences is promptly registered by the police and investigated in accordance with the provisions of law.
Investigation of offences and prosecution of offenders are the duties of the State. For cognizable offences, a duty has been cast upon the police to register FIR and to conduct investigation except as otherwise permitted specifically under Section 157 of the Code. If a discretion, option or latitude is allowed to the police in the matter of registration of FIRs, it can have serious consequences on the public order situation and can also adversely affect the rights of the victims including violating their fundamental right to equality.
Therefore, the context in which the word shall appears in Section 154(1) of the Code, the object for which it has been used and the consequences that will follow from the infringement of the direction to register FIRs, all these factors clearly show that the word shall used in Section 154(1) needs to be given its ordinary meaning of being of mandatory character.
The provisions of Section 154(1) of the Code, read in the light of the statutory scheme, do not admit of conferring any discretion on the officer in-charge of the police station for embarking upon a preliminary inquiry prior to the registration of an FIR. It is settled position of law that if the provision is unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear, the court need not call into it any other rules of construction.
It is thus unequivocally clear that registration of FIR is mandatory and also that it is to be recorded in the FIR Book by giving a unique annual number to each FIR to enable strict tracking of each and every registered FIR by the superior police officers as well as by the competent court to which copies of each FIR are required to be sent.
The expression under Section 154(1) of the Code is not qualified by the prefix reasonable or credible. The non-qualification of the word information in Section 154(1) is for the reason that the police officer should not refuse to record any information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence 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 the registration of 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 police officer concerned 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 thereof.
In case an officer in charge of a police station refuses to exercise the jurisdiction vested in him and to register a case on the information of a cognizable offence reported and thereby violates the statutory duty cast upon him, the person aggrieved by such refusal can send the substance of the information in writing and by post to the Superintendent of Police concerned who if satisfied that the information forwarded to him discloses a cognizable offence, should either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him in the manner provided by sub- section (3) of Section 154 of the Code.
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.
It is, therefore, manifestly clear that if any information disclosing a cognizable offence is laid before an officer in charge of a police station satisfying the requirements of Section 154(1) of the Code, 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 mandate of Section 154 of the Code is that at the stage of registration of a crime or a case on the basis of the information disclosing a cognizable offence, the police officer concerned 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 relevant or credible. In other words, reliability, genuineness and credibility of the information are not the conditions precedent for registering a case under Section 154 of the Code. A perusal of the above-referred judgments clarify that the reasonableness or creditability of the information is not a condition precedent for the registration of a case.
Directions by the Court
After discussing the matter, the court directed as follows-
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:
a) Matrimonial disputes/ family disputes
b) Commercial offences
c) Medical negligence cases
d) Corruption cases
e) 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.
Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of UP. (2013)