The Tumult Surrounding The Death of Sushant Singh Rajput
By Kushal Tekriwal
On June 14, the country lost one of its actors, Sushant Singh Rajput, in Mumbai where he allegedly committed suicide at his place of residence. With the police immediately taking the matter to investigation for inquiring chances of foul play to the incident, it initiated an inquest under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1973, (hereinafter referred to as the Code) to inquire into the unnatural death. This article aims to analyse the scuffle which has taken place between the Mumbai Police and Bihar Police which has signalled to a total state of incompetence of the authorities and aims to critique the same in relation to the established procedures set by the legislation and the leading case laws over the years.
The procedure under the inquest report as per Section 174 clearly states that an investigation is to be carried out to ascertain the cause of the death in incidents involving suicide or death by animal or machinery or any accident or when there exists a reasonable suspicion over the death of the person. However, the scope of this procedure and section is quite narrow and limited as it has been laid by the precedents in courts. The case of George v. State of Kerala clears the stance regarding the ‘investigation’ to be conducted during the inquests. The court has held that in inquests, the investigating officer (I.O.) need not investigate in the same manner as per the investigation done upon cognizable cases emphasized under Section 157 of the Code. The inquest reports only to draw up a report of the apparent cause of the death i.e. to ascertain that whether the death took place under suspicious circumstances. Justice M.K. Mukherjee very categorically has stated that, “for the purpose of holding the inquest it is neither necessary nor obligatory on the part of the Investigating Officer to investigate into or ascertain who were the persons responsible for the death”. Moreover, in the case of Pedda Narayana v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the ascertainment of the identity of the accused is strictly out of the limits and bounds of the Inquest Report under Section 174 of the Code. Such principles have been affirmed by other cases from time to time like in Manoj Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, Ashok Kumar v. Kishwar Jahan and Suresh Rai v. State of Bihar.
The Mumbai Police, as a result of their decision to prepare the inquest report, has crossed the principles set by the statute as well as the case precedents. The Mumbai Police has very explicitly been examining the witnesses in connection to the incident to ascertain the presence of any suspicion, resulting in over 45 days of investigation over such matter in hand. This goes against the fundamental notions as set by the Code and the courts which are quite settled on this issue; as the Code expressly states that the requirement of the Report is to be submitted to its nearest Magistrate via the inclusion of the word ‘immediately’. Where any similar matter if goes for an inquest investigation, it should be reported to the Magistrate on an ‘immediate’ basis with no requirement of examination of any witnesses, and rather than limiting the scope of the investigation to the extent of only ascertaining their suspicion to know the cause of the death, however, the actions of Mumbai Police speaks to the contrary. Justice P. Sathasivam in the case of Ashok Kumar Todi v. Kishwar Jahan remarked that upon determining the cause of the death, the I.O. either has to close the matter or register an FIR. The Mumbai Police’s action of carrying out the inquest investigation and not registering an FIR into the matter leads one to the scuffle over the issue of jurisdiction between the Mumbai and Bihar Police.
On July 28, 2020 Bihar Police lodged an FIR upon receiving a complaint from the family of Sushant Singh Rajput, where the deceased’s father accused Rhea Chakrabarty and six others over the offence of abetment for suicide (Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)), wrongful restraint (Section 341 of IPC), wrongful confinement (Section 342 of IPC), theft (Section 380 of IPC), criminal breach of trust (Section 406 of IPC) and cheating (Section 420 of IPC). Thus, another important issue arises in relation to registration of FIR vis-à-vis the jurisdiction of commission of the offence. In the present matter, Bihar Police had registered an FIR over a commission of an offence which didn’t take place within the jurisdiction of Bihar Police and have commenced the investigation for the same in another state which possibly has the jurisdiction (i.e. Maharashtra).
Section 154 of the Code mandates the registration of an FIR in cognizable matters upon receiving such information regarding the commission of the offence which was also made a principle after the case of Lalita Kumari v. State of Uttar Pradesh. It is only after such registration, the I.O. would have to look at the place of commission of offence and on prima facie basis, proceed further towards the investigation. The present case clearly constitutes the registration of a Zero FIR which was introduced in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 whereby a FIR need not be limited to be registered within the operating jurisdiction of the police station. It mandates the duty of the officer-in-charge to register a Zero FIR and then forward it to the concerned police station for carrying out the procedure of investigation. In the present matter, however, the Bihar Police rather than filing a Zero FIR and transferring the same to the concerned police station in Mumbai, initiated the investigation by themselves by travelling to Maharashtra, thus raising serious issues over the same.
Moreover, a plea for transferring the FIR from Bihar to Maharashtra was filed in the Supreme Court recently on July 29, 2020. Thus, the issue arises over the judicial interference by the courts on transferring the FIR. Section 406 of the Code describes such power of the Supreme Court to transfer the case or appeal for the ends of justice. However, the provision deals with a particular ‘case’ rather than an FIR. As per the statute and case laws in such manner, FIR does not constitute as a ‘case’ for the purposes of Section 406 of the code and thus, rests outside the purview of Supreme Court’s authority. The cases of Naresh Kavarchand Khatri v. State of Gujarat and Ram Chander Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu have affirmed the above view for non-interference of the courts over the investigation. Moreover, Justice K.T. Thomas and M.B. Shah in Satvinder Kaur v. State have explicitly held that the power of a court to interfere with the proceedings of investigation is limited and that the court cannot intervene such matters as the I.O. has no jurisdiction to investigate the same. Additionally, at the stage of investigation, the material collected by an investigating officer cannot be judicially scrutinized for arriving at a conclusion that police station officer would not have territorial jurisdiction. In order to constitute a ‘case’, the FIR needs to have an investigation carried out on which the court cannot intervene regarding its jurisdiction as it lies in the initial phases of the whole procedure and it can only do the same when a ‘case’ is pending before the courts.
Now, with the already ongoing inquest investigation by the Mumbai Police, severe doubts crop over the registration of the FIR by the Bihar Police. However, since Mumbai Police under Section 174 have limited themselves to only inquest report and the non-registration of FIR by the same, the issue of the legal validity of a second FIR doesn’t emerge. The registration of FIR by Bihar Police is to be considered as the first FIR and thus, does not attract any illegality from the perspective of law. However, even if Mumbai Police had registered the first FIR, the subsequent one would not have attracted any illegality. This is in confirmation with the settled case laws and precedents from time to time over this issue of the second FIR. The case of T.T. Anthony v. State of Kerala is the leading precedent on such matter which has been affirmed by the Upkar Singh v. Ved Prakash, Babubhai v. State of Gujarat and many other leading precedents. Through the case of T.T. Anthony, the Supreme Court has clearly held that there cannot be an existence of a second FIR and no fresh investigation can take place on the receipt of every subsequent information in respect of the same cognizable offence or same occurrence giving rise to one or more cognizable offences. However, the principle doesn’t extend to a scenario when there is a cross FIR or a counter-complaint, nor does it extend to a situation when the subject matter is different leading to the constitution of a new offence which was different from the one laid down in the initial FIR. A cross FIR is defined as where an additional FIR has been issued corresponding to the similar fact or occurrence however by the opposite party, against whom the initial FIR had been filed, having their own set of versions of the incident.
Thus, to conclude, there have been attempts of handling the present case to one’s own advantage as the pleas to Supreme Court over transferring the FIR, as well as the Bihar Police’s authority to undertake the investigation themselves rather than transferring the same to the necessary jurisdiction, clearly displays the intent. With all the media trial surrounding the case making it more hyped, it has led to a state of complete disorder. It all rests with the proper courts who have to judicially interpret and apply the prevailing legal principles to avoid any mishaps from the perspective of law. Now, with the transfer of the case to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and its decision to re-register the FIR, things have taken a sudden turn, and with such inclusion, one can expect a proper investigation in the upcoming days and disclosure of facts which led to this tragic event.
[The author is a Third Year B.B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) student from Jindal Global Law School, affiliated to O.P. Jindal Global University, India.]
 Priya Arora, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bollywood Star, Dies at 34, The New York Times, (June 14, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/world/asia/sushant-singh-rajput-death.html.  s. 174, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).  Id.  George v. State of Kerala, A.I.R. 1998 S.C. 1376 (India).  s. 157, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).  Supra note 5.  Pedda Narayana & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, A.I.R. 1975 S.C. 1252 (India).  Manoj Kumar & Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2018) 2 CGLJ 325 (India).  Ashok Kumar Todi v. Kishwar Jahan & Ors., A.I.R. 2011 S.C. 1254 (India).  Suresh Rai & Ors. v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 2207 (India).  Supra note 3.  Supra note 10.  s. 306, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  s. 341, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  s. 342, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  s. 380, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  s. 406, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  s. 420, Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).  Meenakshi Ray, From theft to cheating: Sushant Singh Rajput’s father charges against Rhea Chakraborthy, Hindustan Times, (July 29, 2020), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/from-theft-cheating-to-breach-of-trust-sushant-singh-rajput-s-father-charges-against-rhea-chakraborty/story-DkKuZSXUmBsxhBip9piO3N.html.  s.154, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).  Lalita Kumari v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2014) 2 SCC 1 (India).  The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, No. 13, Acts of Parliament, 2013 (India).  PTI, Rhea Chakraborthy moves Supreme Court, seeks transfer of Patna FIR to Mumbai, The Week, (June 29, 2020), https://www.theweek.in/news/entertainment/2020/07/29/rhea-chakraborty-moves-supreme-court-seeks-transfer-of-patna-fir-to-mumbai.html.  s. 406, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).  Naresh Kavarchand Khatri v. State of Gujarat & Anr., A.I.R. 2008 S.C. 2180 (India).  Ram Chander Singh Sagar & Anr. v. State of Tamil Nadu & Anr., A.I.R. 1978 S.C. 475 (India).  Satvinder Kaur v. State (Government of N.C.T. of Delhi), A.I.R. 1999 S.C. 3596 (India).  Id.  T.T Anthony v. State of Kerala, (2001) 6 SCC 181 (India).  Upkar Singh v. Ved Prakash, (2004) 13 SCC 292 (India).  Babubhai v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 12 SCC 254 (India).  Supra note 29.