Mumbai Police claims it has the exclusive right to investigate the death since it occurred in the Maharashtra capital, while Bihar Police cited an FIR registered by Sushant’s father to launch its own investigation before the state government recommended a CBI probe.
The jurisdictional battle has triggered a slugfest as the two states are led by rival political formations, also fuelling a debate on the legal soundness of the claims coming from both sides.
So, which of these claims is correct and who has the right to investigate the Sushant Singh Rajput case? Here’s an analysis of the legal position.
Mumbai Police’s inquest proceedings
Sushant Singh Rajput’s body was found at his apartment in Bandra (Mumbai) on 14 June 2020. Mumbai Police subsequently began inquest proceedings under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
Section 174 pertains to cases where the officer in charge of a police station receives information about a suicide, accident, or unnatural death.
Upon receiving such information, the police officer informs the nearest executive magistrate and proceeds to draw up a report on the apparent cause of death based on marks of injury and weapon/instrument (if any).
If there is any doubt regarding the cause of death, or if the police officer considers it necessary, the body is forwarded for a post-mortem examination.
What is purpose of inquest proceedings?
The objective of inquest proceedings under Section 174 is limited in scope.
The Supreme Court explained in Radha Mohan Singh v. State of UP, 2006, that the proceedings are meant to “ascertain whether a person has died under suspicious circumstances or suffered an unnatural death and, if so, what the apparent cause of death is.”
Other questions — details of how the deceased was assaulted, who assaulted him/her, or the circumstances under which he/she was assaulted — are foreign to the ambit of inquest proceedings under Section 174.
The power to summon and examine persons acquainted with the facts of the case is also only for this limited purpose.
Thus, inquest proceedings are only aimed at determining the cause of death and not to trace the cause.
Can Mumbai Police legally continue its investigation?
A post-mortem examination usually determines the cause of death. Once a cause of death is ascertained, police has to either close the matter or register a First Information Report or FIR (Ashok Kumar Todi v. Kishwar Jahan, 2011).
The final post-mortem report for Sushant Singh Rajput, as submitted to Mumbai Police on 24 June, concluded that the cause of death was asphyxia due to hanging. Therefore, the objective of the inquest proceedings in this case has already been achieved.
Accordingly, it is not clear how Mumbai Police continued to “investigate” the case for more than a month, examining over 40 people, after the autopsy report had already established the cause of death.
Any further investigation in this matter could only be undertaken after an FIR had been lodged, which has not been done by Mumbai Police.
Registration of FIR by Bihar Police
On 25 July, Bihar Police registered an FIR at the Rajeev Nagar Police Station (Patna) based on a written complaint filed by Sushant Singh Rajput’s father K.K. Singh.
The FIR — the first filed in the case — pertained to the cognisable offences of abetment to suicide, dishonestly inducing delivery of property, and criminal breach of trust.
Did Bihar Police have the power to register FIR?
An officer in-charge of a police station is required to register an FIR and launch an investigation when they receive information regarding a cognisable offence.
Moreover, under Section 156(2) of the CrPC (the section deals with a police officer’s power to investigate cognisable case), no proceedings launched by a police officer can be challenged on the grounds that they have no territorial power to investigate.
If the investigating officer concludes, after the investigation is over, that the cause of action lies in the territorial jurisdiction of another court, they will submit a report to the magistrate empowered to take cognisance.
The Supreme Court has held that, at the stage of investigation, the material collected by an investigating officer cannot be judicially scrutinised for arriving at a conclusion that the officer of particular police station would not have territorial jurisdiction (Satvinder Kaur v. State (Govt. of NCT Delhi), 1999).
Therefore, Bihar Police validly registered an FIR in the Sushant Singh Rajput case and sent a team to Mumbai to conduct an investigation. If the cause of action is found to be outside the jurisdiction of Bihar Police, the duty to forward the case arises after the investigation is completed.
The Zero FIR question
A Zero FIR is registered in a police station that would have otherwise refused to register the FIR for lack of territorial jurisdiction. It is then transferred to the appropriate police station. However, the FIR registered by Bihar Police was a regular FIR and not a Zero FIR.
The objective of introducing the concept of Zero FIR was to ensure the question of territorial jurisdiction doesn’t prove a hurdle in filing of FIRs in cases that require immediate action.
The same is reflected in Section 3 of the Criminal Amendment Act 2013, which focuses on the importance of lodging FIRs and does not discuss the issue of transferring.
The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular on 10 May 2013 (circular), stating that if, at the time of registration of the Zero FIR, it appears prima facie that the cause of action occurred wholly in another jurisdiction, the FIR should be transferred. However, the circular was only advisory in nature and not binding.
In light of Supreme Court judgments that disallow interference on the ground of territorial jurisdiction at the stage of investigation — Satvinder Kaur v. State (Govt. of NCT Delhi), 1999, and Rasiklal Dalpatram Thakkar v. State of Gujarat, 2010 — it cannot be said that the circular places a specific duty on Bihar Police to transfer the FIR. Thus, the law, as laid by the Supreme Court, will take precedence over the circular.
That apart, the Bihar government’s recommendation for a CBI investigation has been accepted by the central government. Thus, the issue of transfer of the case from Bihar Police to Mumbai Police under the concept of Zero FIR does not arise.
Further, the CBI requires the consent of the Maharashtra government to enter the state for exercising its powers and jurisdiction. If the state government refuses to give its consent, the Supreme Court has the power to order a CBI investigation.
Therefore, it has to be seen if the Maharashtra government agrees to the central government’s directions or whether the issue of the CBI’s jurisdiction will also be dragged to the Supreme Court for adjudication.
The writers are Delhi-based lawyers.