On 14 June 2020, Sushant Singh Rajput’s body was found hanging in his bedroom at his house in Bandra Hills, Mumbai. The sudden demise of the fine actor not only agonized the entire nation but also loomed up a lot of controversy and scepticism. As the facts of the matter kept unfolding, this prima facie depression led suicide manifested itself into a shocking money laundering and abetment to suicide case. Moreover, an FIR which was filed concerning the same matter in Bihar has led to some serious confrontations between Bihar and Mumbai Police.
What this article seeks to analyse is the legitimacy of Bihar Police’s claim to probe into an event that cropped up in Mumbai and the stand of the Supreme Court in similar matters that arose in the past.
Where does the seed of contention lie?
The Factum Probans goes as follows- On 14th of June 2020, when the corpse of Sushant Singh Rajput was retrieved from his house, the local police registered an Accidental Death Report (ADR). As per Section 174 of CrPC, Accidental Death Report (ADR) is lodged when a person dies of suicide, or any suspicious incident leading to an unnatural death.
But if a family member of the deceased complained of any abetment to suicide against a third person or suspects the veracity of the case being that of a murder, in order to investigate the same, the Police can, after obtaining the post mortem report, change the ADR into an FIR under the relevant sections of IPC, Section 306 or 302 of IPC for instance. But since, neither any family member of Rajput complained of an abetment to suicide and nor did the post-mortem report reveal any signs of murder, the matter was still considered an ADR by the Mumbai Police.
On 25th July 2020, issues began to convolute when Sushant Singh Rajput’s father, KK Singh filed an FIR in Rajivnagar Police Station, Patna under Sections 306, 341, 380, 406 and 420 of IPC for abetment to suicide, wrongful restraint and secretive confinement, theft in dwelling house, criminal breach of trust and cheating inducing delivery of property respectively. The aforesaid FIRs were filed against the actor’s ex-girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty and her family.
A lot of hue and cry arose about this plea being filed in Patna, but what’s crucial to note here is that KK Singh is a resident of Patna itself and the FIR filed by him seems to be inspired by the Doctrine of Res Gestae defined under Section 6 of Indian Evidence Act. The Doctrine reads as:
Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in the issue so as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at same time and place or at different times and places
Simply put, the consequences of the incident that happened in Mumbai affected KK Singh, a resident of Patna, making them each parts of the same transaction. Additionally, even criminal jurisprudence gives priority to the comfort of complainant rather than comfort of the accused. Thus, the argument that it was wrong to file that FIR in Patna, seems weak.
Soon after the FIR was lodged, Patna Police swung into action and sent a four-member team to Mumbai in order to investigate the matter. After reaching Mumbai, they scrutinized several sites and collected statements of ten witnesses. They subsequently reached Mumbai police for their assistance in the matter, but the local Police neither supported them nor aided them in their inspection.
Instead, they were denied the post mortem report, CCTV footages, inquest reports and statements of witnesses collected by the Mumbai police earlier. The team was entitled to have this information under Section 166 (3) of CrPC. The situation turned even rancorous when IPS Vinay Tiwari, head member of the Bihar team was selectively quarantined by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Authority of Bihar Police to probe into this matter
The unsettling question that arises here is that ‘does Bihar police hold any authority to probe into the matter?’.
Section 177 of CrPC empower courts to conduct trial and enquiry of an offence which has taken place in the local area of their jurisdiction as established under case Y Abraham v Inspector of Police. However, Section 178 (d) and 179 of CrPC authorises courts to carry out enquiry and trial beyond the local area of their jurisdiction and thus, the power of territorial jurisdiction cannot be challenged in such cases.
The Trial court of Patna derived powers from these sections to place an enquiry on the incident that happened in Mumbai. Section 156 of CrPC further empowers the Police to conduct an investigation within or outside its area of jurisdiction when an FIR is filed in the Police Station. Therefore, the FIR that was logged in Patna gave Bihar police the locus standi to initiate their enquiry in the matter. In Kura Rajaiah @ K. Rajanna v. Government of Andhra Pradesh 2007, the court ruled that the power of the Police to investigate and arrest in another state outside its jurisdiction stands conditional to the Police meeting certain prerequisites.
According to the court, the probing officers of the State Police Department (that wants to investigate outside its jurisdiction) need to take permission from the senior officers in command of that state. Moreover, the local Police in which the investigation is to be done has to be duly informed about it. The same rationale was applied in the case of State of Manipur v. Luis Topno, where it was again held that police of one state can probe and arrest in other states.
The aforementioned guidelines are still the law of the land as they have been reiterated and confirmed in Sandeep Kumar v. The State (Govt. Of NCT of Delhi), 2019 in which the Delhi High Court condemned the UP Police for illegal detention of a person in NCT of Delhi, without following the prerequisites.
What makes this current case controversial is that the modus operandi of Bihar Police was downright correct and they did possess the authority to inspect the case. They had duly informed Maharashtra Police about their probe and had the permission from DGP of Bihar for the same. The SP of Patna Police itself was the head of the investigation team.
Nevertheless, the team was still obstructed in continuing their inspection. They were not only empowered to investigate but also to arrest Miss Chakraborty if need be under Section 41 (1)(a) of CrPC and even the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to stop them from continuing their probe as established by the apex court itself in the case of Ram Lal Yadav v. State of UP
Ergo, the answer to the question of the authority of Bihar Police in the issue is in the affirmative.
Notwithstanding this, the Bihar police was stopped. Not only this, Miss Chakraborty also filed a petition requesting the court to transfer the FIR lodged in Patna to Mumbai Police under Section 406 of CrPC.
The stand of Supreme Court on the issue
As mentioned before, the petition has been filed under section 406 of CrPC but can easily be refuted as it is established in the case of Ram Chander Singh Sagar v. State of Tamil Nadu that the Supreme Court can only transfer cases from court to court and not FIRs. In the case of Narmada Bai v. State of Gujrat, the court held that
It is trite law that Accused persons do not have a say in the matter of appointment of an investigation agency.
This position laid down by the court seems to strip Miss Chakraborty of having any say in the present matter. The same rationale was confirmed in Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India where the court said that although one can approach the Supreme Court for transfer of an investigation under the vires of Article 32 of the Constitution, the court uses its power ‘sparingly’ and only in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Another point to consider here is that the Supreme Court itself never halted or questioned Bihar Police’s continuing investigation into the matter. This somewhere points to the fact that the Supreme Court did understand the authority of Bihar Police and it critically questioned Mumbai Police of its authority to stop the former.
Enforcement Directorate (ED) has started examining the money laundering aspect of the case and is scanning through the financial records of Rhea Chakraborty and her father under Section 14 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Catering to the demand of the Bihar government, the Centre on 5th August, 2020 has finally decided to transfer the case to CBI which is now being probed by an SIT jointly headed by Manoj Sashidhar and Gagandeep Gambhir.
The first hearing of the case which took place on 11th August 2020, Mumbai Police submitted its investigation status report in a sealed envelope stating that the collected evidence and the statements of witnesses show no sign of suspicion. However, there were questions on the fact that after the post-mortem report, the case of an ADR is either closed or an FIR is filed if the report reveals otherwise and Mumbai Police did neither of them.
The order on transfer petition by Rhea Chakraborty has been reserved and the parties have been asked to file a two page written submission by 13th August 2020.
The Bihar police stated that it had fulfilled all the legal prerequisites before starting the probe including the arrival of the officers in Mumbai. Despite that, the local police decided to act as a hindrance in the investigation. What Mumbai Police says is that this intervention by Bihar violates the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution. However, the apex court expressed its anguish towards the Mumbai police for its refusal to cooperate with the probing team. What intensifies the shadow of a doubt is the act of the Mumbai police to quarantine the IPS officer.
The exercise of Mumbai Police was undergoing without an FIR. No report of inquest has been filed before District Magistrate or sub-divisional Magistrate. A basic report which shows cause of death should be filed before the Magistrate and the Mumbai Police didn’t do so.
With the involvement of higher authorities and independent investigation agencies, this #justiceforsushant trend has now taken a very gripping turn.
About the Authors: Amartya & Rishav are second-year students at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.