The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has now issued a “fresh advisory” to all states to adhere to existing norms on registration of “Zero FIRs” or First Information Reports on compliance especially for crime against women. The ministry advisory comes three weeks after the gangrape on September 14 was alleged by the victim, a Dalit teenager from Hathras. Her subsequent death on September 29, and hurried cremation on September 30, sparked a nationwide protest.
FIR vs Zero FIR
According to legal portal Lawyered, there is a difference between FIR and Zero FIR. An FIR or ‘First Information Report’ is “the information about the happening of the cognizable offence which is given to the Police officer”. Registration of an FIR, is the first step and the investigation of the criminal case begins from there. A victim or witness of the case or who has the knowledge of the case can lodge an FIR stated the portal, adding that “Under section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 the procedure for filing an FIR is mentioned. If the person gives the information about the incident orally then the police have to write it down on the register which should be signed by him or her. The FIR can be filed in any police station or in the nearest police station where the offence was committed.” An FIR can also be lodged through Phone and E-Mail.
A Zero FIR, came into existence after the landmark Nirbhaya’s case of Delhi. It can be filed in any Police station, irrespective of where the crime took place. The case is registered with the serial number zero, and then transferred to the respective police station. It helps save start the investigation without delay.
MHA’s latest advisory
The MHA, on Friday issued a detailed three-page advisory stating there should be compulsory registration of an FIR in case of a cognisable offence under the CrPC. Issued as F. No. 15011/190/2020—SC/ST-W Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs (Women Safety Division), it notes that the ministry has “issued various advisories to the States/ Union Territories from time-to-time emphasizing the strict actions to be taken by the police in cases of crime against women, including in cases of sexual assault which includes registration of FIR, collection of evidence for forensic examination and use of Sexual Assault Evidence Collection (SAEC) Kit, completion of investigation in sexual assault cases in two months, use of National Database on Sexual Offenders for identifying and tracking repeat sexual offenders etc.”
One of the most important section in context of Hathras case is that the Uttar Pradesh police must act according to “Section 32 (1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, provides that the statement, written or verbal, by a person who is dead shall be treated as relevant fact in the investigation when the statement is made by a person as to the cause of his death, or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death. Hon’ble Supreme Court in its order dated 7thJanuary 2020, in the matter of Criminal Appeal Nos. 194-195 of 2012 in the case of Purshottam Chopra & Anr. v. State (Govt. of NCT Delhi), directed that a particular statement, when being offered as dying declaration and satisfies all the requirements of judicial scrutiny, cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a Magistrate or that the police officer did not obtain attestation by any person present at the time of making of the statement.”
However the Ministry, in the wake of the massive national outrage after the Hathras horror came to light, and of other incidents of rape being reported from Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and other states has once again issued a refresher for all the states to act on the existing laws. The advisory states that , “criminal laws relating to sexual offences against women provide, inter-alia, for the following actions to be taken by the Police in such cases: Compulsory registration of FIR in case of cognizable offence under sub- section (1) of section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). The law also enables the police to register FIR or a “Zero FIR” (in case the crime is committed outside the jurisdiction of police station) in the event of receipt of information on commission of a cognizable offence, which includes cases of sexualassault on women.”
This latest MHA advisory has been sent to states/UTs to ensure they enforce relevant laws and guidelines in cases of sexual assault against women. It added that lapses, if noticed, must be investigated: “Section 166 A(c) of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) provides for punishment to a public servant for failure to record FIR in relation to cognizable offences punishable under section 326A, Section 326B, Section 354, Section 354B, Section 370, Section 370A, Section 376, Section 376A, Section 376AB, Section 376B, Section 376C, Section 376D, Section 376DA, Section 376DB, Section 376E or Section 509 in IPC.”
This latest advisory by the Union Home Ministry is also a reminder to the UP government, and others that, “Any failure of police to adhere to these mandatory requirements may not augur well for the delivery of criminal justice in the country, especially in context of women safety. Such lapses, if noticed, need to be investigated into and stringent action taken immediately against the concerned officers responsible for the same.”
The MHA has now officially put the onus on Uttar Pradesh government, and Uttar Pradesh police to act according to existing laws. The Advisory may be read here: