Recently, the Supreme Court on 19 August 2020, in Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar & Ors1, has illuminated on various crucial elementary concepts of criminal law including power to transfer investigation under Section 406 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), nature and scope of inquiry under Section 174 CrPC, territorial jurisdiction of police to investigate and power of a single Judge under Section 406 CrPC for the purpose of justice. The decision has also shed light on investigation entrustment to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Put shortly, the judgment arises out of a transfer petition under Section 406 CrPC filed by the Petitioner for transfer of a First Information Report (FIR) registered at Patna, Bihar and all subsequent proceedings from the jurisdiction of the concerned Magistrate, Bihar to the concerned Magistrate, Mumbai, Maharashtra. The transfer was sought on the ground that the victim/deceased, whose unnatural death was reported under Section 174 CrPC, was residing within the jurisdiction of the concerned police station at Mumbai. The FIR was filed by the father of the victim/deceased against the Petitioner in Patna.
Decision & Analysis
Power to transfer investigation under Section 406 CrPC
The court held that a transfer plea under Section 406 CrPC was granted in cases where the court believed that the trial may be prejudiced and fair and impartial trial cannot take place in case the trial continues. The court relied on the long standing ratio in Ram Chander Singh Sagar & Anr. v. State of Tamil Nadu2 wherein it was held that Section 406 CrPC pertains to a power 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. It does not apply for transfer of investigation from one police station to another.
In view of the above, the court, considering the contours of the power under Section 406 CrPC, concluded that only cases and appeals can be transferred and not investigation.
Nature and scope of proceedings under Section 174 CrPC
The court observed that proceeding under Section 174 CrPC is limited to inquiry carried out by the police to find out the apparent cause of an unnatural death. These are not "investigations" as undertaken after filing of an FIR. As a matter of fact, the court noted that Mumbai Police was yet to register an FIR pursuant to Section 174 CrPC inquiry.
The court relied on Manoj K. Sharma v. State of Chhattisgarh3 (a case having factual resemblance), wherein it was held that Section 174 CrPC has a very limited scope. The said decision further held that the object of Section 174 CrPC is only to ascertain the apparent cause of the death. The question regarding other details as to how the deceased was assaulted or who assaulted or under what circumstances, is foreign to the scope and ambit of Section 174 CrPC. Section 174 CrPC is for the purpose of "inquiries" and entirely distinct from an "investigation". Thus, the court held that Section 174 CrPC is not an investigation of a crime.
Jurisdiction of the police to register an FIR and investigate incidents which did not take place in its jurisdiction.
In this section, the court discussed whether the Patna Police had the jurisdiction to register the complaint when the victim was residing in another state. As per the complainant, his attempt from Patna to talk to his deceased son was thwarted by the Petitioner/ Accused.
The court held that registration of FIR is mandated when information on cognizable offence is received by the police. In this regard, the court relied on Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P4. The court observed that there are precedents which suggest that at the stage of investigation, it cannot be said that the concerned police station does not have territorial jurisdiction.
The court considered to interpret Section 177 CrPC (Ordinary Place of Inquiry or Trial) and 178 CrPC (Place of Inquiry or Trial). The decision in Satvinder Kaur v. State (Govt of NCT of Delhi)5 was relied on, wherein it was held that Section 178 CrPC, inter alia, provides for a place of enquiry or trial when it is uncertain in which of several local areas an offence was committed or where the offence was committed partly in one local area and partly in another and where it consisted of several acts done in different local areas, it could be enquired into or tried by a court having jurisdiction over any of such local areas. Hence, at the stage of investigation, it cannot be held that the police does not have territorial jurisdiction to investigate the crime.
To discuss the jurisdictional aspect, when allegations of criminal breach of trust or of misappropriation are made, the court relied on Asit Bhattacharjee v. Hanuman Prasad Ojha6. In the said decision, the court referred to Section 181 CrPC which provides for place of trial for certain offences. It was held that Section 181(4) CrPC clearly suggest that even if a part of cause of action has arisen, the police station concerned situated within the jurisdiction of the magistrate empowered to take cognizance will have the jurisdiction to make investigation.
The court further relied on Naresh Kavarchand Khatri v. State of Gujarat7; Rasiklala Dalpatram Thakkar v. State of Gujarat8 which followed Satvinder Kaur. In Rasiklala Dalpatram, the Supreme Court made it clear that a police officer cannot refrain from investigating a matter on territorial ground and the issue can be decided after conclusion of the investigation.
Regarding the allegations of criminal breach of trust or misappropriation, the court held that the same were to be eventually accounted for in Patna and could prima facie indicate the lawful jurisdiction of the Patna Police. In this regard, the Supreme Court relied on Lee Kun Hee, President, Samsung Corporation, South Korea and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors9., wherein it was held that in terms of the offences of criminal breach of trusts and misappropriation of money, the court within whose local jurisdiction, the whole or a part of consideration were required to be returned or accounted for, would have jurisdiction.
As per the law enunciated above, the court held that there exists no illegality in the FIR registered by the Patna Police.
Investigation entrustment to CBI and the direction on investigation.
In fact, the FIR registered at Patna, Bihar was transferred to the CBI with the consent of the Bihar Government. Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 read with Section 5 prescribe the requirement of consent from the concerned state government, before entrustment of an investigation to the CBI. The court held that since the CBI has already registered a case and commenced investigation at the instance of the Bihar Government, uncertainty and confusion must be avoided in the event of Mumbai Police also deciding to simultaneously investigate the cognizable offence, based on their finding in the inquiry proceeding. Hence, the court thought it fit to decide as to who should conduct the investigation.
The court observed that there exists a conflict between the two state governments regarding the competency to investigate the case. The court relied on K.V. Rajendran v. Superintendent of Police, CBCID, Chennai & Ors10 wherein it was held that transfer of an investigation must be in rare and exceptional cases to do complete justice between the parties and to instil confidence in the public mind.
The court held in favour of the investigation already commenced by CBI and observed that it would be appropriate if the case in Mumbai is also investigated by the said agency. While reaching to such a conclusion, it was held that the court must strive to ensure that search for the truth is undertaken by an independent agency, not controlled by any state government/s.
Regarding Supreme Court's power under Article 142, the court relied on Monica Kumar (Dr.) and Anr. v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others11 wherein it was held that the court's power under Article 142 to do "complete justice" is entirely of a different level and a different quality. The said decision also held that once the court has seisin of a cause or matter before it, it has power to issue any order or direction to do "complete justice" in the matter.
Following Monica Kumar, the court was of the view that the case in hand, in its peculiar circumstances, is a deserving case to invoke Article 142 to ensure complete justice and to ensure public confidence for a fair, competent and impartial investigation.
Briefly, below are the key takeaways from the decision:
- Section 406 CrPC pertains to transfer of cases or appeals, only and not investigations;
- The scope of Section 174 CrPC is limited and is in the nature of an "inquiry" and not an "investigation";
- Registration of FIR is mandatory when information of a cognizable offence in received. Police cannot refrain from conducting investigation on a territorial ground. Moreover, in any offence of allegation of criminal breach of trust or misappropriation, the local court, where the offence was committed or any part of the property (involved in the offence) was received or retained or was required to be returned or accounted for, would be the place of trial; and
- There is no impediment for exercise of Article 142 when the Supreme Court is exercising lawful jurisdiction. Article 142 can be invoked to ensure public confidence in the investigation and for the purpose of rendering complete justice in a deserving case.
1. Transfer Petition (Cri) 225 of 220
2. (1978) 2 SCC 35.
3. (2016) 9 SCC 1
4. (2014) 2 SCC 1
5. (1999) 8 SCC 728
6. (2007) 5 SCC 786
7. (2008)8 SCC 300,
8. (2010) 1 SCC 1
9. (2012) 3 SCC 132
10. (2013) 12 SCC 480,
11. (2008) 8 SCC 781,
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.