Ignorance about police procedures often becomes a big hurdle in dispensation of justice, says Devesh K. Pandey

A recent advertisement aimed at promoting public awareness about the category of crimes for which the Delhi police are duty-bound to register a First Information Report is probably based on the assumption that there is a general lack of knowledge about police procedures. This ignorance has often been found to be a big hurdle in dispensation of justice.

The advertisement makes a distinction between cognisable and non-cognisable offences, stating that it is mandatory for the Station House Officer of a police station to register an FIR on a complaint that qualifies under the category of cognisable crime. In the case of non-cognisable offences, the police are required to just make an entry in their daily diary and hand over a copy to the complainant, which is again mandatory. In this case, the complainant can subsequently approach the magistrate concerned seeking further action.

In the event of non-registration of a case over a cognisable offence, the complainants have been urged to report the matter to the Vigilance Department of the Delhi police or senior police officers for appropriate action.

Undoubtedly the endeavour should empower the public through dissemination of vital information about their rights regarding registration of an FIR, but there are certain aspects of the issue about which the common man should also be apprised of. These are the different ways in which complaints are dealt with allegedly to minimise or maximise the seriousness of an offence.

According to a senior police officer, at times it is the choice of expressions used in the complaint that makes a huge difference when it comes to deciding the provisions under which a case would be registered. Many police officers agree that corruption might also lead someone to abuse these “tactics” to deliberately influence the outcome of the case.

However, the officer said that within the organisation no honest officer would subscribe to such an approach unless there is immense pressure to show a declining crime graph year after year, which is normally considered a true yardstick for evaluating the law and order situation. The officer suggested that to do away with this problem, it would be better to treat all cases as cognisable offence and give them equal attention.

Several police officers also feel that a large number of complainants insist on registration of FIRs despite knowing full well that the offences are non-cognisable in nature. This, the police think, drains their limited resources. But there is also no denying the fact that on several occasions the police themselves are caught on the wrong foot.

In one such case, a police station recently did not register a case on a complaint of vehicle theft for over a week on one or the other pretext. It was only after the intervention of a senior police officer that the local police sprang into action showing eagerness to comply with what is a “mandatory” procedure.