New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who allegedly died by suicide at his Mumbai residence on 14 June.
A single-judge bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy invoked Article 142 of the Constitution, which allows the SC to exercise its jurisdiction to order the probe.
The order came on a transfer petition filed by Rajput’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, who wanted the case lodged in Patna to be transferred to Mumbai.
The judge also upheld Bihar Police’s jurisdiction to register a criminal case in connection with the suicide, and transfer of the probe to the central agency.
The Bihar Police had registered the FIR at the behest of Rajput’s father last month. The ‘zero’ FIR (which means the FIR doesn’t have a number) accused Chakraborty of criminal breach of trust, cheating and defalcation of money from the actor’s account.
The court rejected the plea by Chakraborty to transfer the case to Mumbai since the cause of action to investigate a matter arose there.
The Maharashtra government’s claim that only Mumbai Police has the mandate to probe the case was also turned down. The court said the state never chose to challenge the probe, and it was Chakraborty who sought a transfer of the case.
“…to ensure public confidence in the investigation and to do complete justice in the matter, this court considers it appropriate to invoke the powers conferred by Article 142 of the Constitution. As a court exercising lawful jurisdiction for the assigned roster, no impediment is seen for exercise of plenary power in the present matter,” the court said.
“Therefore while according approval for the ongoing CBI investigation, if any other case is registered on the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the surrounding circumstances of his unnatural death, the CBI is directed to investigate the new case as well,” it added.
“This is a victory for Sushant Singh Rajput’s family. The Supreme Court ordered all points in our favour,” said senior advocate Vikas Singh, lawyer of Rajput’s family.
The court had reserved its verdict on the transfer petition on 11 August.
Justice Roy directed the Mumbai Police to transfer all papers related to the case to the CBI. The police had begun inquest proceedings into the alleged suicide and also recorded some statements. However, it did not register any FIR.
The court also gave liberty to the CBI to register a fresh case, if required.
In her petition, Chakraborty had claimed that Bihar had no jurisdiction in the case, and that the actor’s death was being used for political gains ahead of assembly elections in the state.
She received support from Maharashtra, which argued in favour of investigation by the Mumbai Police. It was highlighted that the cause of action took place in Mumbai.
The Bihar government and the actor’s father opposed Chakraborty’s petition. They argued the investigation carried out by the Mumbai Police was without the registration of an FIR and expressed their apprehension over its correctness.
The Bihar government had recommended a CBI probe in the case, which the Centre acceded to on 5 August.
Reasons behind granting CBI probe
While approving a CBI probe in the case, the court reasoned that such a probe will retain public confidence and trust in the impartial working of state agencies, end the acrimonious allegations of political interference and bring justice for innocents, who might have been the target of vilification campaigns.
The top court upheld the jurisdiction of both Bihar and Maharashtra to probe Rajput’s death, but it did not transfer the case to Mumbai Police and allowed CBI to carry on with the probe.
It said the allegations relating to criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of money prima facie indicated the lawful jurisdiction of the Patna Police.
At the same time Mumbai Police, which launched inquest proceedings into the unnatural death, could also register a case if it suspected of a cognisable offence, the top court added.
In order to avoid uncertainty and confusion in the event of Mumbai Police also deciding to simultaneously investigate the offence, the court found it suitable for the CBI to take over the case.
According to the court, Bihar Police did not commit any wrong in not transferring the case to Mumbai because the law does not envisage such a transfer at the stage of investigation.
Furthermore, there was no illegality in handing over the case to the CBI for a probe, the court held.
“While the steps taken by the Mumbai Police in the limited inquiry under Section 174 CrPC (inquest proceedings) 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,” the court said.
‘Justice should prevail for the living & the departed’
Lamenting that a talented actor in the film world died well before his full potential could be realised, the bench noted that a fair, competent and impartial investigation is the need of the hour, considering his family, friends and admirers are keenly waiting for the outcome of the investigation so that all speculations floating around can be put to rest.
“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,” stated the order.
A CBI probe would provide justice to both — Rajput’s father and Chakraborty, the court said. During the hearing, Chakraborty did not object to the CBI investigation, but was sceptical about the “bonafide of the steps taken by the Bihar government and the Patna Police.”
She even took strong exception to media reports, particularly in television channels, which according to her, indicted her in the case.
Though the court remained silent on the coverage, it did say that 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,” the judge said.
‘Speculative public discourse’
Acrimonious allegations of political interference by both Bihar and Maharashtra was one of the reasons why the top court ordered a CBI probe.
It said such exchanges brought the legitimacy of investigation under a cloud as well as gave rise to a “reasonable apprehension of truth being a casualty and justice becoming a victim”.
“Accusing fingers are being pointed and people have taken the liberty to put out their own conjectures and theories. Such comments, responsible or otherwise, have led to speculative public discourse which have hogged media limelight,” the court noted in its order.
These developments unfortunately have the propensity to delay and misdirect the investigation, it said.
“It must be determined whether the unnatural death was the result of some criminal acts. In order to lend credibility to the investigation and its conclusion, it would be desirable in my view, to specify the authority, which should conduct the investigation in this matter,” the court added.
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