Introduction

The horrendous rape and death of Dr Priyanka Reddy in Hyderabad who was a veterinarian by profession has shocked the entire nation and more so has given rise to an important question regarding the legal validity of the denial of Shamsabad police to lodge the First Information Report (FIR) on the grounds of jurisdictional limitations.

Many citizens of India are unaware of the provision of a Zero FIR which was recommended by the Justice Verma Committee in order to abate the rising concerns regarding the horrific offence of rape, abduction and kidnapping against the women. Zero FIR was deemed as one of the revolutionary steps in legal history to alleviate the condition of women in India. Generally, the police authorities refuse to register an FIR if the offence has taken place outside their jurisdiction. However, the introduction of Zero FIR will put a legal obligation on the police to begin investigation and take quick action.

Zero FIR: The Concept

The Apex court in the case of Lalita Kumari vs. Government of U.P[1] had observed that it is mandatory to register an FIR under Section 154 of Code of Criminal Procedure (herein onwards CrPC) if the complaint is related to a cognisable offence.

Zero FIR is an FIR which can be lodged regarding a cognisable offence irrespective of the place of crime and jurisdiction of the police station. After this is done the police station with jurisdiction is allotted the case, thereby making this particular police station in charge of all the investigation involved in the case. The police station which registers the FIR classifies it as a Zero FIR by marking it with a serial number zero and instantly transfers the pertinent documents over to the police station vested with the jurisdiction where it is numbered and then begins with investigation.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued innumerable guidelines to the states directing them to register Zero FIR and the High Karnataka adjudicating for a public interest litigation petition initiated by advocate S Umapathi on September 19, 2019 had observed that “even if the alleged offence has been committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the police station, FIR shall be still registered and the same shall be transferred to the appropriate police station.”[2]

It is important to note here that any police officer who refuses to file a Zero FIR can be punished under Section 166A of the Indian Penal Code which contemplates rigorous imprisonment for a term not less than 6 months extending till two years.[3] Further Section 460 of CrPC enumerates the circumstances wherein a legal proceeding will not stand vitiated. Section 460 (e) provides that a magistrate may not be authorised to take cognisance of an offence outside his jurisdictional limitations, yet by virtue of Section 190 (a) or (b) it will not end up being frivolous. Since no express mention of a provision has been contemplated by the legislature with respect to Zero FIR, therefore the aforementioned are certain sections that build the legal foundation of the concept of Zero FIR as of today.

Here is the checklist that is adhered to while filing a Zero FIR which is quite similar to that of registering any regular FIR:

  1. Statements to be recorded by the police officer in writing.
  2. Put informant’s signature to make the statement official.
  3. A duplicate of the complaint to be provided to the informant.
  4. Informant should always ensure to get an identification number.
  5. Transfer of all the documents to a competent police station for them to proceed with investigation.

Case Laws

  • State of Andhra Pradesh vs. Punati Ramulu and Ors[4]

The constable of the nearest police station to the place of crime was approached by the informant to lodge a report directed to the circle inspector of police. The informant was the nephew of the deceased and an eye witness of the crime. However, his request to lodge an FIR was denied by the police constable on the grounds of jurisdictional limitations. The court in the current case observed a failure of duty by the police constable by not registering the complaint about a cognisable offence on account of lack of territorial jurisdiction. Instead, the police constable had a legal obligation of recording the information and then transferring it to the competent police station.

  • Lalita Kumari vs Government of U.P

It is relevant to quote the view of the court in this case, “The registration of FIR under Section 154 of the Code and arrest of an accused person under Section 41 are two entirely different things. It is not correct to say that just because FIR is registered, the accused person can be arrested immediately. It is the imaginary fear that “merely because FIR has been registered, it would require arrest of the accused and thereby leading to loss of his reputation” and it should not be allowed by this Court to hold that registration of FIR is not mandatory to avoid such inconvenience to some persons. The remedy lies in strictly enforcing the safeguards available against arbitrary arrests made by the police and not in allowing the police to avoid mandatory registration of FIR when the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence.”

  • Satvinder Kaur vs. State (Govt of NCT of Delhi)[5]

In this case, the informant appealed in the Apex court challenging a judgment of the Delhi high court which had rendered an FIR filed at a police station in Delhi as redundant. The Apex court, in this case, had formulated certain important views with regard to registration of FIR:

Even after investigation is over, if the Investigating Officer arrives at the conclusion that the cause of action for lodging FIR has not arisen within his territorial jurisdiction, then he is required to submit a report accordingly under Section 170 of the Criminal Procedure Code and to forward the case to the Magistrate is empowered to take cognizance of the offence.

  • Asharam Bapu v State

This is one of the most infamous cases wherein the Indian guru was accused of raping and wrongfully confining a 16 year old minor who hailed from Uttar Pradesh. The Delhi police took prompt actions and registered a Zero FIR even though the crime had taken place in Jodhpur. Immediately the case was transferred to Jodhpur police station which began with the investigation.

  • Kirti Vashisht v State and Ors[6]

Expressing its disappointment towards the inaction of the police station which refused to register information against the respondent Babita Sharma and instead harassed him to extend bribe, said that “it is not in dispute that the provision of ‘Zero FIR’ came up as a recommendation in the Justice Verma Committee Report, in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 after the heinous ‘Nirbhaya case’ of December, 2010. The provision says: A Zero FIR can be filed in any police station by the victim, irrespective of their residence or the place of occurrence of crime.” The court in its conclusion directed the Commissioner of Delhi Police to furnish a standing order to each and every police station in the NCT of Delhi to accept all and any information they receive which discloses the occurrence of a cognisable offence even if the police station is incompetent on grounds of jurisdictional limitation and thereafter transfer the case to the competent police station.

Conclusion

Zero FIR is a beneficial tool for the women of the country where sexual crimes against women are the highest in the entire world. However, it is still distressing to see the public servants denying to register a case as heinous as rape and telling the victims to get it registered in the station which is “competent” to lodge it.

People who are travelling and unfortunately come across or are the victims of a cognisable offence can visit the nearest police station to file their complaints and get the investigation started immediately.

A Zero FIR is extremely useful for circumstances wherein a grave offence like murder, assault or an accident has taken place that requires instantaneous measures to be taken rather than contemplating about the jurisdictional limitations of a police station.

However, misuse of this tool is also possible. In case a Zero FIR is not sent to the competent police station well within time, then opposing party may register an FIR at a police station which it prefers and get hold of an investigation report in its favour. Another possible setback is that the police station irrespective of the lack of jurisdiction may register a complaint as FIR and promptly transfer the case to the concerned police station even without any preliminary investigation. This might result in the harassment of the defendant if the information lacks veracity.

After the barbaric incident in Andhra Pradesh in November 2019, the state government is formulating the AP Disha Act to ensure time-bound investigation of sexual offence cases against children and women. It is encouraging to see that DISHA facility will be launched in each and every district hospital to provide assistance for legal, psychological and social aid to the victims including the filing of Zero FIR.[7]

[1] [2014] 2 SCC 1

[2]<https://www.dailypioneer.com/2019/state-editions/—zero-fir–to-help-victim-of-out-of-jurisdiction-crime.html>

[3] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018

[4] 1993 Cr LJ 3684

[5] [1999] 8 SCC 728

[6] 2019 SCC OnLine Del 11713

[7]<https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/andhra-pradesh/2020/jan/03/spl-officers-for-disha-act-implementation-2084455.html>


About the Author: Shreya is a 2017-22 Batch UG Law Student at Nationa Law University Odisha.


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