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In a 35-page judgment, Justice Hrishikesh Roy gave finality to the questions posed by investigating authorities in two states, in what became a jurisdictional tussle coloured with political hues.
Putting to rest some of the speculation surrounding the investigation into the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the Supreme Court today held that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the FIR lodged against actress Rhea Chakraborty was lawful.
In a 35-page judgment, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy gave finality to the questions posed by investigating authorities in two states, in what became a jurisdictional tussle coloured with political hues.
Before delving into the questions of law surrounding the petition filed by Rhea Chakraborty seeking transfer of the FIR registered against her from Bihar to Mumbai, the Court noted,
"The records of the case produced before this Court, does not prima facie suggest any wrong doing by the Mumbai Police. However, their obstruction to the Bihar police team at Mumbai could have been avoided since it gave rise to suspicion on the bonafide of their inquiry."
Having considered the arguments raised on behalf of all parties concerned, the Court proceeded to frame and answer the following issues:
Under Section 406 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Supreme Court has the power to transfer cases and appeals either from one High Court to another, or from one subordinate court to another.
After considering a few judgments on the issue, the Court held,
"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."
A proceeding under Section 174 CrPC is limited to finding out the cause of death in case of an unnatural death, and is different from a regular investigation into an FIR carried out under Section 157.
Noting that the Mumbai Police has neither lodged an FIR in the case, nor considered the matter under Section 175 (2) CrPC, suspecting commission of a cognizable offence, the Court held,
"In the present case, the Mumbai Police has attempted to stretch the purview of Section 174 without drawing up any FIR and therefore, as it appears, no investigation pursuant to commission of a cognizable offence is being carried out by the Mumbai police…Therefore, it is pre-emptive and premature to hold that a parallel investigation is being carried out by the Mumbai Police."
The Court then made an observation that in the event two courts in different jurisdictions take cognizance of the same offence, the issue can be resolved by application of Section 186 CrPC. According to this provision, the High Court within the local limits of whose appellate criminal jurisdiction the proceedings were first commenced shall decide where the inquiry shall take place.
Adverting to several precedents, the Court reiterated that registration of an FIR is mandatory when information on a cognizable offence is received by the police. A police officer cannot refrain from investigating a case on grounds of territorial jurisdiction. Such issue of jurisdiction can be decided after conclusion of the investigation, the Court noted.
Further, the allegation of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of money made by Rajput's father against Chakraborty would be eventually accounted for in Patna, where the former resides. Thus, the Court held,
"...it must be held that the Patna police committed no illegality in registering the Complaint. At the stage of 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."
It was stated that while the CBI cannot conduct any investigation without the consent of a state as mandated under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the Court is not fettered by such statutory requirement.
Justifying its need to "do complete justice" in the case, the Court said,
"As 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. Therefore, it would be appropriate to decide at this stage itself as to who should conduct the investigation on all the attending circumstances relating to the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput. This issue becomes relevant only if another FIR is registered on the same issue, at Mumbai. A decision by this Court on the point would confer legitimacy to the investigation."
"While the steps taken by the Mumbai police in the limited inquiry under Section 174 CrPC may not be faulted on the material available before this Court, considering the apprehension voiced by the stakeholders of unfair investigation, this Court must strive to ensure that search for the truth is undertaken by an independent agency, not controlled by either of the two state governments. Most importantly, the credibility of the investigation and the investigating authority, must be protected."
It was also clarified that in the event a new case related to Rajput's death is filed in Mumbai, the investigation into that case will also be probed by the CBI. An order from the Court to this effect will make it possible for the CBI to avoid having to get consent from the State of Maharashtra.
Justice Roy made a couple of concluding remarks in what has been a case marred by acrimonious allegations of political interference and questions surrounding the legitimacy of the investigation.
Justice Hrishikesh Roy
Noting that Chakraborty had herself asked for a CBI investigation into the matter earlier, the Court stated,
"For the petitioner too, it will be the desired justice as she herself called for a CBI investigation. The dissemination of the real facts through unbiased investigation would certainly result in justice for the innocents, who might be the target of vilification campaign. 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."
[Read the judgment]