A common man, invariably, runs from pillar to post in pursuit for justice and sometimes struggles even endlessly for it. This is due to the slow pace of our legal system which is procedurally complex and at times highly technical for a layman to comprehend. But there have been occasions where influence, power or money, have abridged this struggle and pursuit for justice. Sushant Singh Rajput’s case has once again highlighted this deviation in the legal procedure and system. Much has been said of Sushant Singh Rajput case and storm has now been calmed down by the Supreme Court decision. However, it is interesting to look back and analyse the events how they took place in this case.
Late Sushant Singh Rajput, a public figure, died under alleged mysterious circumstances in Mumbai. Investigation under section 174 CrPC was commenced by the Mumbai police and while the investigation was pending, father of the deceased, a resident of Patna, filed a criminal complaint seeking registration of FIR in Patna. A FIR under sections 341, 342, 306, 380, 406, 420, 506 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 got registered in Rajeev Nagar Police Station, Patna, which was later transferred to CBI under approval of Bihar governor. Serious issues arose right from the registration of FIR by Patna police to its transfer to CBI for investigation.
Talking of jurisdiction based on the consequences that ensued on commission of alleged offence, we have often seen that sections 179 r/w 181(4) of the CrPC are used in the matrimonial disputes where the wife files a complaint against her husband under section 406 IPC (criminal breach of trust) at her parental place on the averment that the husband either received, or retained, or misappropriated, or had to return her property at her parental place. This is a question of fact and there ought to be necessary averments in the complaint and prima facie evidence to support it. In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, his father filed a complaint in Patna on the similar theory alleging that the misappropriation of money was accounted for in Patna. However, given the facts and circumstances of this case, this theory appears to be too far-fetched and seems nothing more than a tactic to bring the case within the jurisdiction of Patna police one way or the other. Criminal law has to be strictly construed, therefore, to make jurisdiction in Patna for an offence of misappropriation of money/criminal breach of trust, either the offence of misappropriation had to be committed in Patna, or part of the property had to be received in Patna, or retained in Patna, or was required to be returned or accounted for in Patna. None of these parameters, were present in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, yet Patna police registered FIR taking the shelter of section 179 and 181(4) of the CrPC.
Another interesting facet of this case is that the other sections appearing in the Patna FIR namely section 306 (abetment to suicide), 341 (wrongfully restraining a person), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement), 380 (punishment for theft), 420(cheating), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 120B (conspiracy) had no connection with Patna. Therefore, to bring the case within the jurisdiction of Patna police, section 406 of the IPC was added and it was alleged that the misappropriated money was accounted for in Patna. This, prima facie, appears to be the modus operandi used to involve the state of Bihar in the case. Had the case been not registered by Patna police in the first place, it would have either been transferred by Bihar to Mumbai under zero FIR or the complaint itself would have been forwarded to Mumbai police. In either case, there would not have been any occasion for the Supreme Court to direct CBI investigation in the Patna FIR and the transfer petition filed by Rhea Chakraborty seeking transfer of investigation from Patna to Mumbai would not have existed. It was only due to the registration of FIR by Patna police that Rhea Chakraborty sought transfer of the FIR to Mumbai and in turn the Court invoked Article 142 of the Constitution of India.
Immediately upon registration, FIR no. 241 of 2020 came under the scanner for being without jurisdiction and a result of political intervention. However, the Bihar government justified its registration on the ground that the consequences of the offences were within the jurisdiction of the state of Bihar, therefore, in view of section 179 r/w section 181(4) of the CrPC the FIR was valid. Also, reference was made to the Supreme Court law that when the allegations of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation are made, it can be investigated by the police station situated within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate within whose jurisdiction the accused was bound by law or by contract to render accounts or return the entrusted property, but failed to discharge that obligation. The government, therefore, argued that in the present case, since the allegation related to criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of money which were to be eventually accounted for in Patna, it had lawful jurisdiction to register the FIR. One may say that while the conduct of the Patna police is commendable for being swift and overtly receptive, it does make one ponder as to how many times, when the complainant is not a celebrity but a common man, would have the police walked these extra miles in registering FIRs with such swiftness and receptiveness? It will not be incorrect to state that there may not even be handful of occasions when this would have been done. It is a general perception that the overall performance of police officials is based upon the number of cases lodged in the police station so the police officials invariably devise ways not to register a complaint. As per media reports based on surveys, there have been instances where the police stations refrained from filing FIRs in 50% of cases. But in the present case, where the police could actually have lawfully transferred the complaint to Mumbai police, not only ended up registering a FIR themselves but also eventually transferred the same to CBI under orders of Bihar governor. After all, it concerned a successful and a popular celebrity who hailed from Patna, hence the State compassion! It is one thing to say that the family of a young talented actor who lost his life under mysterious circumstances deserves a proper investigation but one has to keep the sanctity of CrPC intact, which should also not be compromised for no individual is above law.
Talking about the swiftness of Patna police, as per media reports, the Rajeev Nagar Police Station FIR was registered after intervention and clearance given by the Bihar Chief Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar. Thereafter, the Hon’ble CM recommended CBI investigation in the case. How many times do the complainants get such preferential treatment? Can law be differently applied to differently placed individuals? Will the procedure followed in the case of Sushant Singh Rajput be applied to each and every case from now on? If not, then under what circumstances can this deviation be allowed? Is such procedure adopted only because a famous personality has died or because the Chief Minister Office intervened? Had it not been a case of death of a celebrity, had it been a common man, would this procedure be followed? If not, then does it not erode the confidence of a common man and does it not bolster the general perception – one law for the rich and another for the poor? These are some of the basic questions that this case has brought to forefront again.
Invariably, in cases of section 306 IPC, the inquiry is taken up under section 174 CrPC and consequently upon completion of inquiry, if a cognizable offence is made out, a FIR is registered under appropriate sections, by the police station within whose jurisdiction the offence or part of the offence is committed. In the present case, while the inquiry under section 174 CrPC was pending in Mumbai, Patna police hurried onto registering a regular FIR and not a “zero” FIR on a complaint despite knowing that the mysterious death occurred in Mumbai and all the alleged misappropriation of money was also done in Mumbai. The FIR was however justified on the ground that the alleged misappropriation of money was to be eventually accounted for in Patna. This is nothing but an attempt to do something indirectly which could not have been done directly thereby violating – what law forbids directly, cannot be done indirectly. Nevertheless, even if we presume for a moment that the FIR had legal validity, we seldom witness such swift action by police in registering FIRs. While it is commendable that Patna police or the State of Bihar acted with such legal insight, swiftness, and compassion towards the complainant, a common man can only wonder and wait in despair considering the influence that is needed to achieve such a swift result.
Bihar Government justified registration of the FIR by Patna police on the ground that the complaint disclosed commission of a cognizable offence and thus it was incumbent upon the Patna police to register a FIR and investigate. It will not be incorrect to state here that had it been a routine complaint with no publicity or political intervention, Patna police would have registered a “zero” FIR and transferred the same to Mumbai police for further proceedings. This would have been in compliance with the general procedure prescribed under the Code of Criminal Procedure but this case was worthy of a deviation for reasons well known!
Another bizarre submission that was made on behalf of the Bihar government was that since Mumbai police did not register a FIR, the action taken by the Patna police was legally justified. Over the years, we have seen that a State registers a “zero” FIR and transfers it to the State having jurisdiction, which then investigates. Thereafter, the complainant has legal remedies if he is not satisfied by the investigation undertaken by the State to which the “zero” FIR was transferred. He can file a representation to the senior police officials and if still aggrieved can file an application under section 156(3) of the CrPC for the court monitoring investigation or even a writ petition in the High Court of that State. But this case saw deviations from the prescribed procedure from the very inception. One, during the pendency of inquiry under section 174 CrPC by Mumbai police, instead of filing a complaint with the Mumbai police, the complainant chose to file it in Patna (his place of residence) and sought registration of a FIR. Two, a FIR was duly registered, apparently after concern is expressed by the Chief Minister Office. Three, the usual procedure of registering a ‘zero’ FIR or forwarding the complaint to Mumbai was given a go-by. Four, the FIR was then transferred to CBI on approval by the Bihar governor in terms of section 6 of the DSPE Act. In addition to this sequence of events, on one hand the State of Bihar made allegations against the State of Maharashtra of inaction and intentional botched up investigation to protect the culprits and even demanded resignation of Maharashtra Chief Minister while on the other hand, the State of Maharashtra hit back at Bihar government claiming that Mumbai gave Sushant prosperity while Bihar did not stand by him during his struggle and that when one State is investigating the matter another State ought not to interfere or commence parallel investigation. The manner in which the events took place, it not only gave the case a political overtone and created an obvious clash between the two State governments but it also laid down the foundation for the Supreme Court to make an exception whereby it transferred the investigation to CBI on the ground that there is a conflict between the two State governments on who amongst the two is competent to investigate the case. Another question that one may think – was such a conflict between the two States intentionally created to carve out an exception to meet the standard of law that transfer of investigation can be done only in rare and exceptional cases. Bihar also came under scanner for staging its involvement to politically exploit the case ahead of State elections. Whatever the case may be, the very fact that the incident occurred in Mumbai, the registration of FIR by Patna police on the basis that the alleged misappropriation of money was to be accounted for in Patna appeared to be an act done under political clout. In usual business, in such a case, the police complaint would have resulted either into a “zero” FIR by the Patna police or the Patna police would have simply forwarded the complaint to Mumbai police for registration and investigation. However, the dramatic twists and turns that were witnessed in this case right from the registration of FIR no. 241/2020, to forced quarantine of senior Patna IPS officer, to transfer of investigation to CBI by Bihar Governor, to transfer of the entire case to CBI by Supreme Court, it may well set the tone where the complainants may choose to file complaints in the place of their residence by adding section 406 IPC (criminal breach of trust) and including an averment in the complaint that the misappropriated money was to be accounted for within their jurisdiction. Such a practice, can seriously impair the federal structure and attract unnecessary delay in justice delivery system. The impact of the observations passed by the Supreme Court in Rhea Chakraborty v State of Bihar & Ors. relating to the jurisdictional issue in cases of misappropriation of money may see extensive ramifications in the times to come.
Adv. Rohan Garg is Partner, Fox Mondal & Co. He is a LL.M (Utrecht University) D-1926/2005