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The article analysis the order passed by Supreme Court to make it mandatory for the police ti upload FIR within a stipulated time period.
- Last week the Supreme Court of India made it mandatory for the police to upload within 48 hours a First Information Report (FIR) drawn up by it suo motu or on a complaint.
- Aimed principally at protecting the accused who may come to know that he figures in an FIR, but has no idea of the allegations which formed its basis, this order will lead to protect citizens from State harassment on flimsy grounds.
- In this momentous order, Youth Bar Association of India v Union of India and others, Justices Dipak Misra and C. Nagappan laid down several guidelines which could help to promote transparency and curb arbitrariness in police work.
- The apex court direction, incidentally, also benefits victims of crime who have no means of getting to know whether their complaint had been brought on record or not. This is welcome because of the Indian police’s dubious record of suppressing crime.
- Viewed in this perspective, the court’s prescription makes it difficult for station house officers to ignore crime, a common practice adopted with a view to helping an offender or to dress police statistics up so that they conceal even a slight rise in crime.
A logical next step
- Right through its history, the Supreme Court of India has distinguished itself by coming out with directions which seek to support the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.
- The decision prescribing expeditious uploading of FIRs on to the Internet is therefore in sync with the court’s consistent stand that human rights are sacrosanct and cannot be trampled upon out of malice or at the instigation of the political executive (read ministers).
- In writing its order, the court demonstrated an intense application of mind in respect of two issues: the need to protect national security, as well as the privacy of a citizen; and the technical feasibility of implementing its directive that FIRs should be uploaded within 48 hours of their registration.
- According to the order, there will be exemption from the directive when the alleged offence is sensitive, such as sexual violence or one in which there is an angle of national security, insurgency or terrorism.
- The uploading of FIRs will also not be mechanical and as a simple rule of thumb. The order visualises a circumstance in which the authorities could sometimes decide against uploading on grounds of security.
The court however laid down that such decisions could not be taken unilaterally by a single police official:
- First, such decisions cannot be taken at a level lower that a deputy superintendent of police.
- Second, such a decision is appealable by an aggrieved party to a committee to be set up by a district superintendent of police or a commissioner of police.
- The court also provided for the possible objections of a technical nature that could be raised by vested interests — both policemen and the political network — who did not want FIRs to be publicised through the Internet.
Issue of logistics
- One principal negative response to the order points to existing modest police resources, especially in the rural areas, that could hinder easy implementation of the court directive.
- Many police stations, especially those in remote areas, may have a computer, but may not necessarily be connected to the Web.
- Taking cognisance of this logistical problem, the court permits the latitude of extending the deadline for uploading FIRs from 24 to 48 hours, or even to 72 hours, under special circumstances arising from the remote location of a police station.
- Such relaxation of the time limit for uploading would be related only to connectivity difficulties, and nothing else.
- Where there is a connectivity issue, the solution could be to hand deliver expeditiously a hard copy of the FIR to the district police headquarters — where connectivity may not be a problem — through a special messenger.
- An alternative could also be for the State Crime Branch CID at police headquarters to act as the repository or nodal agency to undertake the task of uploading of FIRs.
A telling cynicism
- Every time courts have sought to curb police arbitrariness by clamping restrictions on the day-to-day routine, there has been furtive resentment. This is why we strongly believe that we should not permit any sabotage of the latest court order.
- We should work towards building public opinion which would demand implementation of the directive both in letter and in spirit.
- For genuine adherence to what the court has laid down here, and in several other instances, we need the stakeholders — the executive, policemen and the lay public — to not flinch from their basic duty of wholeheartedly welcoming what the court has said and spreading the message as widely as possible.
Certain fundamental issues afflicting police administration:
- ? The first is one of police resources at the grass-root level being grossly inadequate. The scene is particularly deplorable in rural stations. A judicial direction that makes annual recruitment mandatory would go a long way in alleviating this ill.
- ? A more painful fact is the extent of graft that prevails at police stations in many regions of the country. There are very few police stations where a citizen can get his complaint registered without greasing the palm of the station house officer. This goes unchecked because of the graft at supervisory levels.
The recent order given by Supreme Court to upload the FIR on internet within a stipulated time period is just one step towards police reforms. But, in order to bring change in the Police administration, we should work towards building public opinion which would demand implementation of the directive both in letter and in spirit. There is also a need to involve all the stakeholders in the process to bring required reforms. Discuss,
- Positives of the recent order and its limitations.
- Which other reforms are needed.
- Why we are not being able to pursue with reforms.
- The way forward.