Call it an effort to manipulate crime statistics to boost the image of the police, call it corruption, or call it sheer laziness, the trend has it that more and more policemen are shying away from registering first information reports (FIR).
Several recent cases have brought this disturbing phenomenon to the fore, highlighting how policemen have dismissed cognisable cases of offense as non-cognisable ones.
“When I recently approached the Khar police to file an FIR after I was molested by an unknown man in an auto rickshaw just outside my building in Bandra (West), the police filed a non-cognisable offense complaint (NC). Because the content was written in Marathi, I could not understand that it was an NC, until a friend pointed it out. I obviously believed that the police will do their job,” said a 28-year-old woman working as a communications executive.
Lawyers and policemen opine that the reasons for such irresponsible conduct on part of the policemen are manifold. YP Singh, former IPS officer and now a lawyer, says, “Policemen shy away from registering FIRs because either they do not want to spoil the crime statistics in their respective areas, or they want to avoid the enormous paperwork that follows, or they are bribed by the accused not to register a cognisable complaint against them, particularly in matters of individual disputes.”
However, in many cases, policemen say, it is the formalities and the strenuous investigation procedure that deters them. “Every FIR we register is followed by a horde of formalities including paperwork and a rather arduous investigation procedure. So, policemen register NCs even in cases of cognisable offenses. Besides, a layman does not know the difference between an NC and an FIR, and the policeman cashes in on it,” said a police official requesting anonymity.
Meanwhile, K Subramanyam, director general of police for the state, who recently issued a circular to police stations instructing them to ensure that FIRs are properly registered and failure to do so will attract appropriate action against the officials concerned, said that the motive behind the circular was to ensure that no complainant is turned away.
“Each time a person approaches a police station, the policeman should cautiously examine the nature of the complaint, conduct a quick inquiry to ascertain the facts put forth by the complainant, and register an appropriate case. The intention is not to ignore any complainant and simultaneously avoid falling prey to false complaints,” he said.
However, lawyers opine that a pre-FIR inquiry is not permissible by law and only delays the legal process. “Around two years ago, the high court made a full-bench ruling that barring cases where an allegation is linked with the official function of a public servant, a pre-FIR inquiry is illegal since there is no provision for it under the criminal procedure code,” said Singh.
Besides, said Singh, conducting a pre-FIR inquiry or not registering an FIR in case of cognisable offences can have serious repercussions on policemen. “In such cases, a departmental action is the first thing that the policeman will have to face for dereliction of duty. Besides, it is also punishable under the Indian penal code. And if a complainant is zealous, he can also file a civil case against the concerned policeman or approach the human rights commission.”
Meanwhile, Sridhar Iyer, a 24-year-old information technology consultant, said, “As citizens, when we approach the police, we place our trust in them. We do not expect them to disregard our grievances only because they are not feeling active enough to file an appropriate complaint. And if that is the case, the policing and legal system, both are rendered useless.”