The First Information Report (“FIR”) is the first and the earliest information of the occurrence of an offence which must be registered and investigated by the police. Offences which have to the polic has to register are also known as cognizable offences. These include mostly serious offences such as rape, murder, kidnapping, cheating, robbery etc. The Indian Penal Code specifies the offences which are cognizable in nature and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) is the law which mandates that the police to register a FIR.
Registering FIR is the first step in the investigation process of any cognizable offence, hence it is essential for setting the criminal justice administration process in motion. However, in order for an investigation to be carried out by the police station, it needs to have jurisdiction as per CrPC this is also known as the “police station limit”. Police officers assigned to a police station have powers to investigate only those offences which are committed within a demarcated area surrounding the police station, this is called territorial jurisdiction. Additionally, the police station in the area in which the accused resides or carries out a business also has jurisdiction to investigate offences.
There have been several reported instances where the police have refused to entertain a complaint and register FIR by citing the reason that the offence was committed beyond their jurisdictional limit. The most recent incident that came under scanner was in the year 2019, wherein a Hyderabad based veterinary doctor was raped and killed. Not only did this gruesome incident shake the entire nation but it brought discrepancies and inaction in registering FIR by the police and the issue of territorial jurisdiction in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In this case the parents of the victim had approached their nearest police station to register a missing person FIR. But the police refused to do the needful by citing jurisdictional issues.
Let’s understand the basics of lodging an FIR.
When an aggrieved person approaches the police station, the police officer in charge of that police station should be doing the following:
- Listen to the oral complaint;
- Determine whether the complaint is of serious nature and the offence is cognizable;
- Writes down the complaint exactly how the informant is wording it; (in the case of a female informant, a female officer records the details)
- Read the written complaint out loud to the informant;
- Ensure that the details entered are correct;
- Take the signature of the informant on the written complaint;
- Enter the substance of the written complaint in a book maintained by them in the police station;
- Give a copy for free of that written complaint to the informant.
Now, this written complaint is called FIR., when FIR is registered a serial number is assigned to it, wherein police can exercise their power immediately of arresting the accused for purpose of investigation.
What is Zero FIR and why is it called “Zero FIR”?
Zero FIR does not bear a serial number instead it is assigned a number “0” (zero), hence the name. It is registered irrespective of the area where the offence has been committed. After the police station registers Zero FIR, it transfers it to the jurisdictional police station where the offence has occurred. Once the Zero FIR is received by the appropriate police station, a serial number is assigned to it, and it gets converted into a regular FIR.
The reason for transferring the Zero FIR to the jurisdictional police station is because they are practically and legally well placed to investigate the offence.
For instance, if a person goes missing in City X, his or her parents residing in City Y can register Zero FIR with Y Police Station. The Y Police Station will transfer the Zero FIR to the X Police Station, where it will be given a serial number and converted into a regular FIR and the police officers of X Police Station will immediately take requisite actions and initiate an investigation.
Judiciary on Zero FIR
There have been judiciary backing to Zero FIR, courts have reiterated the importance of Zero FIR and have come down heavily on the police personnel on their reluctance to register Zero FIR. Following are few judgements on this issue –
In 2020, the Supreme Court of Indiain Union of India vs. Ashok Kumar Sharma and Others observed that “there is the practice of registering an FIR as a Zero FIR, when the Police Station at which FIR is registered, does not have territorial jurisdiction it is made over to the Police Station which has jurisdiction in the matter. Therefore, when information is given to a Police Officer, within the meaning of Section 154 of the CrPC, in relation to the commission of a cognizable offence, the Police Officer must register a FIR and then make it over to the Inspector.”
In 2008, the Delhi High Court in Bimla Rawal and Ors Vs NCT of Delhi held that- if the information given to the police discloses the commission of a cognizable offence, they cannot refuse to register an FIR. After registering they are supposed to start an investigation immediately. If during the course of the investigation, they realize that the crime was committed in some other jurisdiction then they should transfer the case to the police station having jurisdiction to investigate that crime. However, if it is evident at the time of registration itself that the crime was committed in some other jurisdiction then they should register the information as Zero FIR and immediately transfer the same to the appropriate police station having jurisdiction over that matter.
In the aftermath of Nirbhaya’s case, Justice Verma Committee was constituted to invigorate and reform the anti-rape laws. Many amendments in criminal law were recommended by this committee and one of those recommendations was a provision of Zero FIR- to enable anyone to file FIR from anywhere. Advisory for compulsory registration of FIR issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs emphasised that a police officer is duty-bound to register a case based on such information disclosing a cognizable offence and FIR must be registered irrespective of territorial jurisdiction, refusal to do so will result in the prosecution of the that particular police officer and they would be subjected to disciplinary action.
Validity and practicality of the Zero FIR?
The validity of a Zero FIR is similar to regular FIR. The informant after lodging Zero FIR can check if it is transferred to the jurisdictional police station and appeal for investigation without any unnecessary delay.
For instance, in self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu’s case, the parents of the 16-year-old survivor, filed a Zero FIR in Delhi against the accused, while the place of occurrence of sexual abuse of the minor was Asaram’s Ashram in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The registered Zero FIR in Delhi was transferred to Jodhpur, for further investigation. Then the Jodhpur police took up the investigation and arrested the accused.
As a measure to improve safety and security in railways, the Ministry of Railways now facilitates travelling passengers in running trains to report a crime. The aggrieved person or informant can fill FIR form available with the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) and register it at the next police station the train halts at. If the place of occurrence does not fall with the jurisdiction of that police station, the case is registered under Zero FIR and transferred to the concerned government railway police station having jurisdiction.
The inclusion of the concept of Zero FIR is a milestone in our legal history, yet many citizens are unaware of this right of theirs. Therefore it becomes important to know the consequences police officer will have to face if they refuse to register FIR: –
- Registration of FIR by a police officer is mandatory under section 154 of CrPC, police officers refusing to register FIR related to certain offences against women (such as rape, sexual assault, etc.) can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine or with both under Section 166A of the Indian Penal Code.
- Disciplinary Action will be taken against erring officers who do not register the FIR if information received by him discloses a cognizable offence citing jurisdictional concerns, according to the Constitution Bench judgment of the Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari vs. Govt. of Uttar Pradesh.
Zero FIR is thus an important tool for asserting citizens’ rights and inspiring confidence amongst the general public regarding the effectiveness of police in carrying out investigations in a prompt manner without any technical territorial impediments.