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Recently, the death of an Odia migrant worker made it to the news as a zero FIR was filed at Bhanjanagar police station in Odisha. Satyaban Swain died due to an alleged assault at the hands of Amroli police personnel in Surat, Gujarat. It was Santosh Swain, the brother of the deceased who had lodged this FIR. According to Santosh’s account, his brother was lathi-charged along with two others when they went to collect their train tickets. Satyaban was later beaten up by a police team who had reached his room. Thus beating sent him to the hospital where he was declared dead. Now, this FIR would be sent to Amroli police station under whose jurisdiction the offense took place.
What is Zero FIR?
Any person who has information as regards the commission of an offense may give such a piece of information to the police. This information being communicated is the First Information Report or FIR. The person communicating such information is the informant. The term “FIR” has not been defined anywhere in the statutes. But, sections 154 and 155 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 bear the ethos of the concept of FIR for both cognizable and non-cognizable offenses respectively. An FIR kickstarts the criminal justice system. It sets the proceedings into motion. FIR holds a far greater evidentiary value as compared to any other statement. And yet, it is not treated as a substantive piece of evidence. It can only be used for corroboration.
The concept of zero FIR is fairly new. It refers to such an FIR that is registered irrespective of the area where the offense has been committed. The police can no longer claim that they have no jurisdiction. With the introduction of the concept of zero FIR, they would have no other choice but to lodge that FIR. Such an FIR is then later transferred to the police station that has the actual jurisdiction so that the investigation can begin.
Why was it introduced?
The notion of Zero FIR has led to the establishment of a jurisdiction free FIR. It was on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee of 2013 that such a concept was brought forth. It was in the aftermath of the brutal Delhi gang rape case of December 2012. The brutality of this offense shook the nation to its core. The nationwide protests forced legislators to rethink the situation of the then-existing criminal justice system. It was the Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations that led to the criminal Amendment Act, 2013. This amendment brought several noteworthy changes in the system. One such concept was that of zero FIR.
The police can no longer claim ‘lack of jurisdiction’ when approached by an informant. The Supreme Court’s mandate in Lalita Kumari v Government of Uttar Pradesh [2008 (11) SCALE 154] clarified that the registration of FIR is mandatory. This position was further strengthened with the introduction of zero FIR.
The concept of zero FIR was introduced to ensure that the evidence in certain cases such as those that involve sexual offenses or road accidents is collected without losing precious time. It is extremely important to maintain the sanctity of the evidence collected. It has to be protected against manipulation and corruption. Zero FIR becomes beneficial in cases where immediate action is necessary. It allows the police to begin a timely investigation.
In the case of Kirti Vashisht v State & Others (2019), the Delhi High Court made the following observation:
“As per section 154 CrPC, if any information relating to the commission of a cognizable offense is received by any police station, the said police station is duty-bound to register the FIR. However, if the crime has not occurred in the jurisdiction of the said police station, then after registering the zero FIR, the same has to be transferred to the concerned police station for investigation, where the offense has been committed […] A zero FIR can be filed in any police station by the victim, irrespective of their residence or the place of occurrence of crime.”
Therefore, now no police officer can refuse to register an FIR even if the commission of the offense was outside that police station’s jurisdiction. The officer-in-charge of that police station is bound to register that FIR.
In the general scheme of things, FIR is registered alongside a serial number. But a zero FIR does not bear a serial number. Instead, it assigned the numeral “0”. This is how this FIR received its name.
- A zero FIR can be filed at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction.
- Filing of such FIR is mandatory and no one can deny its registration.
- It is lodged under the serial number “0” and hence, its name.
- Such an FIR is later transferred to the police station that has the actual jurisdiction.
- If the officer-in-charge of the police station refuses to record the information, then that person can take his case to the Superintendent of Police (SP). He can either direct the lodging of the FIR or register it himself and initiate the investigations.
- The jurisdiction is not disturbed. The police station within whose borders the offense was committed will have sole jurisdiction. The police station where zero FIR is filed is responsible only for its filing and its transfer.
- It must not be confused with the multiple jurisdictions. In such a case, parts of crime are committed in different areas and all the police stations involved have jurisdiction. They can file the FIR anywhere amongst themselves without worrying about its transfer.
- It was introduced to protect the informant and the victim against technicalities. Zero FIR takes away the concept of jurisdiction to allow for smooth initiation of proceedings.
- It ensures that justice is neither delayed nor denied.
Legal provisions regarding it
FIR has not been expressly dealt with in CrPC. However, section 154 directly deals with it. It lays down provisions regarding information in cognizable cases. In other words, it deals with the registration of FIR in cognizable cases. Similarly, section 155 deals with the registration of FIR in non-cognizable cases.
There is no direct or indirect provision in the CrPC regarding zero FIR. However, its legal basis can be found in section 460 and section 190.
Section 460 of the Code talks about irregularities which do not vitiate proceedings. Clause (e) of this section states that if any Magistrate who is not empowered by law to take cognizance of an offense under clause (a) or clause (b) of subsection (1) of section 190 but takes cognizance erroneously and in good faith, such proceedings shall not be set aside merely because he lacked such power.
Section 190 talks of cognizance of offenses by Magistrate. Apart from these sections, sub-section (c) of section 166A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 lays down punishment for a public servant who refuses to record any information given to him under sub-section (1) of section 154 of CrPC.
Zero FIR becomes particularly important in sensitive cases where the reporting of the crime must be done as soon as possible. This ensures a timely action and a swift delivery of justice. For instance, in cases of rape and sexual assault, the collection of evidence through physical examination is a top priority. Such a collection can be only done after the filing of FIR. This is because these pieces of evidence are crucial in these types of cases and it becomes necessary to protect them from corruption or deterioration. Further, in homicide cases, especially the heinous ones, the perpetrator must be caught quickly to prevent him from absconding. Again, to catch him and to initiate proceedings into the matter, an FIR has to be lodged first.
Investigation and evidence collection can only happen once the FIR is duly registered. Zero FIR prevents the waste of time of the informant by providing a short cut. The informant no longer needs to worry about the jurisdiction of the police station. No one can send him away for a lack of jurisdiction. Zero FIR makes it possible for any police station across India to register an FIR irrespective of the place of commission of the offense.
It also becomes an important tool when an offense committed during traveling. The victim, in such a situation, can reach out to the nearest police station on route their journey and lodge a Zero FIR. It would become the responsibility of that police station to send the zero FIR in question to the appropriate police station.
As good as the reform sounds on paper, its execution in the field remains dicey. Firstly, the police itself is not aware of the reforms despite the amendments in the CrPC and the issuance of multiple guidelines. There have been countless instances where the police officers out of ignorance have turned the victim away, citing lack of territorial jurisdiction. The most recent example of police officers refusing to file an FIR is that of the Hyderabad rape case. The victim’s parents were turned away from their nearest police station when they went to file an F.I.R against the perpetrators citing lack of territorial jurisdiction as the reason.
Secondly, the citizens themselves are not aware of their legal rights. They are not aware that now they can lodge a zero FIR across any police station in India. Even six years after the 2013 Amendment that made lodging of a zero FIR to be a statutory duty, the police across the county, both the police and the police officials and the citizens are struggling to get a grasp of this concept. Not only this, despite several strict guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs, mandating the concerned departments to compulsorily register zero FIRs, but ignorance also prevails at large especially at the grassroots levels.
The legal right of lodging a Zero F.I.R is a very noble one. It inspires confidence in the minds of the general public that upon any wrongdoing, their voices will be heard and not muffled by procedural technicalities of law. However, due to certain maladies like the ignorance of the law as well as intentional abuse, the confidence and trust in the legal system are at stake. For law and order to exist, the maintenance of public confidence and trust in the country’s justice system is a must. Where landmark judgments, amendment acts, and even the strict guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs have remained inefficient, steps should be taken by the government to compulsorily ensure that the citizens, as well as the functionaries of the justice system, are aware of the concept of zero FIR.
Though there have been cases of abuse of the reform, it cannot be used as an excuse to dissolve it. Instead, the need of the hour is to fix responsibility right from the lower rungs of the criminal justice administration. The criminal justice system remains riddled with many problems. As appreciable as these reforms are, without proper implementation measures in place, they remain of no use to the victim or the perpetrator.
Author: Viola Rodrigues from School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru.
Editor: Shalu Bhati from Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.