Should the police have the power to investigate an offence without any complaint being filed for it?
In the last Saturday Poll on granting power to the police to investigate a crime without anyone filing a complaint, 78% of you have said that the police should have the authority to investigate offences without complaint and based just on the knowledge that the crime has occurred.India Institute
This article is the analysis of the results of the Saturday Poll posted on India Institute’s Facebook page on 23 November, 2013 which asked the above question. As the general interpretation of the law stands today, even when the police come to know of a grave offence or crime through media or other sources, no action can be initiated unless a formal complaint is registered with the police by someone. That means even known abuses or crimes can go unpunished if the victim is too scared to file a complaint, especially where the accused is powerful or in a dominant position, even though there are several ways (photos, videos, audio recording etc) to prima facie authenticate an allegation of offence today.
In some such cases, the court has come to the rescue by taking suo moto cognizance of the alleged crime and ordering an investigation. For justice to prevail and to protect the ordinary people from criminals with power and money, should the police also be given the power to take up investigation of cases of crime that has come to their knowledge even though nobody has filed a complaint?
In the last Saturday Poll on granting power to the police to investigate a crime without anyone filing a complaint, 78% of you have said that the police should have the authority to investigate offences without complaint and based just on the knowledge that the crime has occurred. However, 22% of you have been vary of the police being given such a power. There have been several instances where police have come to be known for biased outlook and unfair actions. For example, the well known expose of SHOs by Tehelka in April 2012 revealed their prejudiced notions about the place of women in our society and about reasons for frequent instances of sexual assaults. Custodial rapes and assaults by people in dominant position such as employers are also not uncommon. It is also known that some times people file false cases in collision with the police for personal, political and economic reasons.
Recently, the Supreme Court held that it is mandatory for police to register an FIR if information on commission of a cognizable offence is “received”, leaving it ambiguous whether that would also include information received from the public domain or the media. Within a few days of this ruling, in the rape case against the founder and editor-in-chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, the Goa Police filed an FIR on the basis of media reports. Such a law can keep police apathy under check but can also come to be misused. Therefore, it should come with enough checks and balances to ensure that a solution does not become a problem.