Sushant Singh Case: Legal Angle

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To quote Benjamin Franklin, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one”.

Suicide is now universally accepted as one of the leading causes of death. The reasons for the same are innumerable. Sometimes people attempt suicide not so much because they really want to die, but because they simply don’t know how to get help. Suicide attempts are not a cry for attention, but a cry for help. It becomes a way to demonstrate to the world just how much they are hurting. The harsh reality of life and the Film Industry has been brought to light by a 34 year old, popular actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, whose premature and tragic death has left the world at a loss of words.

Facts of the Issue

A well-known and legendary actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, who won countless awards and hearts, was found dead at his residence in Mumbai on 14th June, 2020. The untimely death of the actor left the entire nation tongue-tied. The death has been labeled as suicide; the investigation is still on. Just a few days preceding this awful event, Rajput’s former manager, Disha Salian was also found dead in Mumbai. She had allegedly committed suicide by jumping off the 14th floor of a building of the Jankalyan area of Mumbai’s Malad.

While the Mumbai Police has been investigating in the matter, the Bihar Police had also pitched in after the late actor’s father KK Singh filed an FIR against Rhea Chakraborty, the admitted girlfriend of the deceased Actor. The Central Government has accepted the plea of transferring the case to CBI to initiate a probe in the matter.

Few days after the incident, the Bihar Police filed an FIR against eight people including Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor, Sanjay Leela Bhansali etc. Many of Sushant’s fans and associates within the industry have cited the ‘insider-outsider’ theory, professional pressure and bullying as some of the reasons that could have led to Sushant’s suicide.

Critical Analysis

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, representing Rhea Chakraborty, a major accused in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case, while contending said that the Mumbai Police had the authority and supremacy over the case. The Patna police exercises zero jurisdiction to even register the case in sight. He enunciated that in accordance to the law, if an FIR is registered at the place where the offence was committed, a ZERO FIR could be lodged and get transferred to the state which exercises jurisdiction over a specific matter.”

Advocate Divan acquainted the court with the fact that there was significant delay in the filing of the FIR in Bihar, during which the Mumbai Police was competently conducting the investigation. He explicitly stated that the entire case is swamped with political objectives and agendas, coupled with the outrage generated by the media among the public. As a counter-argument to the contentions presented by Rhea Chakraborty’s Advocate, Maninder Singh, on behalf of the State pointed out that no investigation was carried out by Mumbai Police due to the absence of First Information Report and hence, it looks like the political pressure in Maharashtra became the impediment during the FIR registration.  

After hearing endless justifications and wide range of altercations, the bench headed by Justice Hrishikesh Roy reserved the order and directed the parties to file written submissions within the time period of two days regarding the transfer of case from Bihar to Mumbai.

Rhea Chakraborty, during her written submissions re-iterated the arguments advanced earlier, that Bihar police lacks jurisdiction to investigate the matter and the subsequent transfer of the case to CBI is subtle infringement of Delhi Police Establishment Act (DSPE). According to Section 6 of Delhi Police Establishment Act, consent of the State Government is an essential pre-requisite to exercise power and jurisdiction. Hence, the appropriate government for the present matter is Maharashtra Government.

The Government of Bihar incessantly opposed and denied all the allegations and proclaimed that they were acting within the power conferred upon them, as no FIR was registered in Mumbai. The Maharashtra Government and Police failed to undertake an unbiased and corruption free investigation.

Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Maharashtra Government, had contended on August 11 that allowing Bihar police to probe an incident which happened in Mumbai will be in the teeth of principles of federalism, white dictate that law and order falls within the domain of the State where the cause of action arose.

The very foundation of Criminal Procedure Code has been put in danger. If such investigation by Bihar Police is allowed, it will amount an assault on the concept of federalism. While seeking absolute dismissal of Rhea’s petition to transfer the case to CBI at the behest of Bihar police, Advocate Keshav Mohan, appearing on behalf of the Bihar Government stated that “No impediment would deserve to be allowed to come in the way of CBI to undertake and complete the investigation expeditiously”.

Legal Provisions Involved

In the middle of large public outrage associated with Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, Maharashtra Government’s incompetence to conduct meticulous inspection and Bihar administration’s demand to transfer the case to CBI, the Supreme Court considered various legal provisions to continue acting within constitutional bounds.

Sections 174, 175 and 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provide for magisterial inquiries into cases of unnatural death. The system is in place to ensure that unexplained deaths do not remain unexplained and that the perpetrator is tried by a competent court established by law. The scope of the proceeding under section 174 is restricted.

Section 174 states “When the officer in charge of a police station or some other police officer specially empowered by the State Government in that behalf receives information that a person has committed suicide, or has been killed by another or by an animal or by machinery or by an accident, or has died under circumstances raising a reasonable suspicion that some other person has committed an offence, he shall immediately give intimation thereof to the nearest Executive Magistrate empowered to hold inquests, and, unless otherwise directed by any rule prescribed by the State Government, or by any general or special order of the District or Sub- Divisional Magistrate, shall proceed to the place where the body of such deceased person is, and there, in the presence of two or more respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, shall make an investigation, and draw up a report of the apparent cause of death, describing such wounds, fractures, bruises, and other marks of injury as may be found on the body, and stating in what manner, or by what weapon or instrument (if any); such marks appear to have been inflicted.”

A police officer acquires competent authority to investigate the case when FIR has been lodged under section 154 relating to a cognizable offence or when FIR has been lodged for a cognizable offence and competent magistrate has passed the order of investigation under section 155. Section 174 is entirely different from section 154 and 155.

Conclusion

The premature death of popular star Sushant Singh Rajput has highlighted and revealed the toxic atmosphere our Bollywood Community is engulfed in. The superficial charisma that grooves with film industry is in reality too shallow to step in. Various successful suicidal attempts committed by actors and other professionals have uncovered the importance of mental health. The psychological well-being of the individual is as essential as physical well-being. The concept of depression is stigmatized in India, where people believe that mental disorders like anxiety, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, etc are nothing but psychological problems that are bizarre and hard to comprehend. We are constantly living in a state of denial, refusing the fact that mental health disorders are the worst and they really do exist. The need of the hour requires every individual to sympathize with the concerned person along with educating the masses about the importance of mental health and the help that can be sought for it.  

Author: Anjali Busar, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow

Editor: Astha Garg, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

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