NEW DELHI: Commoners, often harassed by the police’s refusal to register FIRs (first information reports), have turned the tables on the men in khaki, thanks to the Supreme Court.
Stating that officials in India understood only the "crack of a whip", the apex court on Friday ordered that a policeman turning away a person without registering his complaint could face contempt of court charges and cool his heels in jail if he failed to justify non-registration of the FIR.
Brushing aside the apprehensions of some counsel who felt that an order as harsh as this could be prone to misuse by those who had an axe to grind against the police, the bench said that in India, officials were activated only by the crack of a whip.
"In India, officials act only on huntering (flogging). India understands only ‘chabuk’ – this is the meaning of swaraj and this is the concept of swaraj (self-rule)," Justice B N Agrawal said.
The cracker of an order came from a bench headed by Justice Agrawal, who on Thursday had a massive spat with a former law minister in open court before excusing himself from hearing a petition that had sought FIRs against judicial officers allegedly involved in the Rs 23 crore PF scam.
The court has provided a detailed mechanism to citizens to make the police accountable. The bench comprising Justices Agrawal and G S Singhvi said if the police refused to register an FIR, the aggrieved person could move the area chief judicial magistrate with a complaint against the concerned officer.
Posting the order on the Supreme Court website "so that the people of India may know what directions have been given by this court", the bench said, "The chief judicial magistrate or the chief metropolitan magistrate, as the case may be, shall take action in a case of inaction upon filing of a complaint petition and give direction to institute the case within a specified time-frame."
If the police failed to act even thereafter, "the CJM or CMM shall not only initiate action against the delinquent police officer but punish them suitably by sending them to jail, in case the cause shown is found to be unsatisfactory".
Moreover, the concerned CJM or CMM court should intimate the disciplinary authority "at once by fax as well" about the errant officer, who would be immediately placed under suspension pending departmental proceedings.
Acting on the petition of one Lalita Kumari who alleged that her complaint about her missing minor daughter was not acted upon by the UP police, the bench had on July 14 said that there was a general feeling across the country that the police tended to get pricey about registering complaints from commoners.
"In a large number of cases, investigations do not commence even after the registration of FIRs and in a case like the present one, steps are not taken for recovery of a kidnapped person or apprehending the accused person with reasonable despatch," the bench said and narrated a case wherein harsh orders passed by judicial officers in identical matters had led to assaults by policemen.
To prevent such abuse of police powers, the court had on July 14 said that it was high time states were directed to make police register FIRs immediately on receipt of complaints.
It had sought the response of chief secretaries and directors-general of police of states and UTs to the suggestion that failure to register FIRs would entail contempt of court action and a subsequent jail term.
The failure of states, except Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, to respond to the July 14 order made the court see red and it has asked the chief secretaries and DGPs to file their responses within two weeks. Failure to do so would warrant their personal presence in the court on August 25, the next date of hearing.