The Opinion
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Decoding Sushant Singh Rajput’s Case

By Piyush

Bollywood Hungama

Introduction

The judgment pronounced by the Supreme Court in the case of “Rhea Chakraborty Vs State of Bihar &. Ors” exhaustively deals with the frequent skirmishes encountered by the states. The recent standoff has exhibited a blatant disregard to the very idea of federalism. The aforesaid judgement has settled the dispute once and for all by comprehensively dealing with the rights and entitlement of states and a course of action that is warranted when a vested interest and legal ambiguity is involved.

The judgement pronounced by the Hon’ble Supreme Court has larger ramifications. It sets a precedent for future situations where two States are pitted against each other. The recent standoff between the states of Maharashtra and Bihar warranted that the issue be dealt with by the Hon’ble Apex court.

Before dwelling upon the legal questions circumscribed in the judgment it seems pertinent to mention that this article endeavours to discern the legal nuances it encompasses and thus does not have any bearing on the case whatsoever the circumstances may be.

Questions of Law Involved

The judgment circumscribed the following four issues:-

  1. Whether a court has the power to transfer the investigation (not case or appeal) by virtue of Section 406 of CrPC?
  2. Whether the investigation conducted by the Maharashtra police under Section 174 of the CrPC can be called an investigation?
  3. Whether Bihar police was within its right to lodge an F.I.R at the instance of the deceased’s father?
  4. Whether this court has the power to transfer the case to CBI (Single Bench)?

Needless to say, the primary concern and interest people had in connection with the case was what would happen if two states colluded with each other. As it had the possibility to lead to gross insubordination and contumacious instances by an authority.

Once in a blue moon does it happens that two states come to brinkmanship like they have now. The Sushant Singh Rajput Case triggered extensive discussion in civil society regarding the extent to which a state can intervene in any kind of criminal investigation. Nevertheless, the real bone of contention was the apparent hostility between the two States in question. In which, one was driven with its parochial insight of governance and the other with electoral compulsions. Thus, the real scapegoat turns out to be the timing of the issue.

I shall start the analysis by borrowing the phrase used by Sr. Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi in the course of his arguments,

“Murder of the CrPc is being attempted in this case where jurisdiction is a casualty”.

The Four Issues

Let’s understand the judgment and its intricacies through each issue;

Whether this Court has the power to transfer investigation (not a case or appeal) under Section 406 of the CrPC?

The Hon’ble Court held that it does not have the power to transfer any investigation from one jurisdiction to another. Nonetheless, By virtue of Section 406 CrPC, its powers are limited to only case and appeal, which they can transfer to any jurisdiction. Further, the Hon’ble Court held that the precedents suggest that transfer plea under Section 406 CrPC were granted in cases where the Court believed that the trial may be prejudiced and fair and impartial proceedings cannot be carried on if the trial continues.

The Hon’ble Court cited the precedent of Ram Chander Singh Sagar and Anr. vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (1978) 2 SCC 35. Writing the judgment Justice V.R Krishna Iyer, declared that:-

The Code of Criminal Procedure clothes this Court with power under Section 406 to transfer a case or appeal from one High Court or a Court subordinate to one High Court to another High Court or to a Court subordinate thereto. But, it does not clothe this Court with the power to transfer investigations from one police station to another in the country simply because the first information or a remand report is forwarded to a Court. The application before us stems from a misconception about the scope of Section 406……. If justice is denied there are other redresses, not under Section 406, though it is unfortunate that the petitioners have not chosen to move that court to be absolved from appearance until necessitated by the circumstances or the progress of the investigation. To come to this Court directly seeking an order of transfer is travelling along the wrong street.

Having considered the contour of the power under Section 406 CrPC, it must be concluded that only cases and appeals (not investigation) can be transferred. The ratio in Ram Chander Singh Sagar and Anr. (Supra) in my view, is clearly applicable in the present matter.

Therefore, in a nutshell, the Court only has the power to transfer cases and appeals, in cases, where there is an apparent bias and prejudice which could lead to miscarriage of justice. The aforesaid development seems indispensable in legal procedure as any digression from it would have opened a Pandora’s box of frivolous litigation filed on the pretence of “transparent investigation”.

While arguing the case, Sr Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi who was representing the State of Maharashtra gave a hypothetical situation which addressed the anomaly it encompassed. He said that allowing an investigation to shift from one jurisdiction to another would lead to gross complications and if any of this applies, it will be a fundamental assault on federalism. He stated

Suppose a hit and run happens in Mumbai and both, victim and accused don’t like Mumbai police and since they like Kerala let Kerala police investigate. It will confer power on the parties to choose jurisdiction according to their preference, which will lead to the travesty of justice.

Therefore, the Hon’ble Court was conscious of the fact that any precedent in this effect will attract multiplicity of petitions regarding transfer and on a completely whimsical and capricious basis. This leads us to the second issue involved.

2) Whether the proceeding under Section 174 CrPC conducted by the Mumbai Police to inquire into the unnatural death, can be termed as an investigation?

The proceeding under Section 174 the CrPC is limited to the inquiry carried out by the police to find out the apparent cause of unnatural death. Therefore, this inquiry is not an investigation which is instituted under Section 154 of the CrPC. The procedure that generally follows is, if any unnatural death has happened, then the police will enquire about the death to ascertain the cause of death and if they found anything suspicious then they could register the F.I.R to that effect.

Thus, in the course of a preliminary enquiry under Section 174 of CrPC, police cannot go into the merits of the case and the person involved in it. Their enquiry shall be limited to the apparent cause of death. Interestingly, the subsequent anomaly entailing in it was highlighted by the Sr. Advocate Vikash Singh. He argued that the Lalita Kumari judgement says preliminary enquiry needs to be concluded within 7 days. Inquest proceedings cannot go beyond the receipt of the final postmortem report.

Therefore, in the instant case, the court held that no FIR was registered yet. The Mumbai Police has neither considered the matter under Section 175 (2) CrPC, suspecting commission of a cognizable offence nor proceeded for registration of FIR under Section 154 or referred the matter under Section 157 CrPC, to the nearest magistrate having jurisdiction.

The above-mentioned pronouncement ruled out the existence of any parallel investigation and thus counterbalanced the argument put forth by the leading counsels.

Therefore, the follow-up question is, although Bihar police registered the FIR, they should have transferred it to the requisite jurisdiction on the basis of a “Zero FIR”. ( If any police station does not have the jurisdiction to register an FIR brought into its notice, which shows the commission of cognizable offences, then, in that case, they could lodge the zero FIR and send it to the concerned police station who has the jurisdiction to investigate).

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

3) Whether it was within the jurisdiction of the Patna Police to register the FIR and commence an investigation of the alleged incidents which took place in Mumbai? As a corollary, what is the status of the investigation by the CBI on the consent given by the Bihar government?

The court held that the Patna police was well within its rights to register the FIR and commence the investigation. Time and again it has been enunciated that Registration of FIR is mandated when information on cognizable offence is received by the police.

Precedents suggest that at the stage of an investigation, it cannot be said that the concerned police station does not have territorial jurisdiction to investigate the case. In the case of Lalita Kumari Vs. Govt. of UP, it was held that the registration of an 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.

Moreover, the court reiterated that when an allegation of Criminal Breach of Trust and Misappropriation is made, on the jurisdictional aspect, then even a modicum presence of jurisdiction or a part of the cause of action, will vest the right to the concerned police station situated within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate and thus he is empowered to take cognizance under Section 190 (1) of the CrPC.

Finally, the Hon’ble Court settled the issue stating ;

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 an 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.

4) What is the scope of the power of a single judge exercising jurisdiction under section 406 of the CrPC and whether this Court can issue direction for doing complete justice, in the exercise of plenary power?

The last issue that the Hon’ble court took into consideration was incongruous and not consistent with its previous approach. However, explicitly elucidating all the doubts surrounding the power of the Hon’ble Court. It held that Article 142 of Constitution gives this court an absolute power to transfer any investigation without complying to the provision of Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE) which talks about the consent to be taken by the state before transferring the case to CBI. Therefore, the powers of the Constitutional Courts are not fettered by the statutory restriction of the DSPE Act.

Lastly, yet importantly, the Hon’ble Court maintaining its majesty and splendour not only granted the relief sought but ended with the following observation:-

“The dissemination of the real facts through unbiased investigation would certainly result in justice for the innocents, who might be the target of vilification campaigns. 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.”

Conclusion

The appropriate perusal of this judgement manifests the wisdom that the Hon’ble Supreme Court holds since its inception. The way it has crafted its reason and balanced the cause, with no scope of error displays its erudition. The chronology begins with when the Hon’ble Court decided that it does not have the power to transfer investigation from one state to another. As a result, when the question of the parallel investigation came into the picture, with both States (Maharashtra and Bihar) allegedly conducting their own investigations, it held that the Mumbai Police was not doing an investigation as they were yet to register the FIR and Section 174 is only applicable when an unnatural death happens. In which, the police has to do a preliminary enquiry first so as to ascertain, whether it was accident or conspiracy or murder. It does not involve any specific person.

Thus, the enquiry is confined to finding the cause rather than the person. With the aforesaid facts, the court arrived at the conclusion that it was not an investigation. Finally, the only issue left was whether Bihar police had the competency to register the FIR. It held citing various sources that in case of a disclosure of cognizable offence, the police is under obligation to register the FIR. The slew of events unfolded and numerous events unleashed by the Maharashtra government necessitated the registration of an FIR. Moreover, the father without his son will have no one to light his funeral pyre. This fact itself was sufficient to give jurisdiction to Patna Police.

At last, the Hon’ble Court has settled this entire issue once for all by invoking its plenary power under Article 142 of Constitution and entrusted the case to CBI and any other subsequent cases relating to this subject.

Piyush , BBALLB, 4th Year, Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune

My name is Piyush and I am pursuing BBALLB from Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune. I love to read and write and have keen interest in Politics. I have published various articles on diversified contemporary subjects and love to explore new perception for any problem. Find him on Instagram and Facebook.

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