The Supreme Court, which on Tuesday ordered compulsory registration of First Information Reports, noted that the burking (suppression) of crime might itself be in the range of 60 lakh cases every year.

Quoting figures from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a five-judge Constitution Bench, said: “Registration of FIRs leads to less manipulation in criminal cases and lessens incidents of ‘antedated’ FIR or deliberately delayed FIR.”

The NCRB figures showed that about 60 lakh cognisable offences were registered in India during 2012. But “the burking of crime may itself be in the range of about 60 lakh every year. Thus, it is seen that such a large number of FIRs are not registered every year, which is a clear violation of the rights of the victims of such a large number of crimes.”

Writing the judgment, Chief Justice P. Sathasivam said: “Burking of crime leads to dilution of the rule of law in the short-run and it also has a very negative impact on the rule of law in the long-run since people stop having respect for the rule of law. Thus, non-registration of such a large number of FIRs leads to a definite lawlessness in society. Therefore, reading Section 154 of the Cr.PC in any other form would be detrimental not only to the scheme of Cr.PC but also to society as a whole.”

The Bench said: “Investigation of offences and prosecution of offenders are the duties of the state. For ‘cognisable offences,’ a duty has been cast upon the police to register FIR and to conduct investigation, except as otherwise permitted specifically under Section 157 of the Cr.PC. If discretion, option or latitude is allowed to the police in registration of FIRs, it can have serious consequences for the public order situation and can also adversely affect the rights of victims, including violating their fundamental right to equality.”

Therefore, “the context in which the word ‘shall’ appears in Section 154(1) of the Cr.PC clearly shows that the word… needs to be given its ordinary meaning of being of ‘mandatory’ [in] character. A perusal of the provisions in the Cr.PC and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, manifests the legislative intent for compulsory registration of FIR in a case of cognisable offence without conducting any preliminary inquiry.”

The Bench said: “At the stage of registration of a crime or a case on the basis of the information disclosing a cognisable offence in compliance with the mandate of Section 154(1) of the Cr.PC, the police officer concerned cannot embark upon an inquiry as to whether the information… is reliable and genuine or otherwise and refuse to register a case on the ground that the information is not reliable or credible. On the other hand, the officer is statutorily obliged to register a case and to proceed with the investigation if he has reason to suspect the commission of an offence. Principles of democracy and liberty demand a regular and efficient check on police powers. One way of keeping a check on authorities with such powers is by documenting every action of theirs. Accordingly, under the Cr.PC, actions of the police are provided to be written and documented.”

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