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FIRst response

Registering all complaints as FIRs,as is being pushed by the MHA,is an idea with problems

Written by The Indian Express |
December 30, 2009 11:04:46 pm

First Home Minister P. Chidambaram and now the ministry that he heads have joined a chorus — other members of which include judges of the Supreme Court — that complaints submitted to a police station should always be registered as FIRs. This cannot really be imposed,of course,by fiat — law and order is a state subject,so the call has to be taken by each state government. But the reasons that this chorus has formed are impressive. After all,as things stand,the FIR is the only way the criminal justice system can be set in motion. But,since then the police are forced to act,the local police have an incentive to not register your complaint — over and above any interference with the process,such as appears to have happened in the Ruchika case. If your FIR isn’t registered,you have few — and difficult — options. You can complain to a senior policeman (SP and above); file a private complaint in court; or go to the NHRC.

Yet,while there are excellent reasons to suppose that many

legitimate complaints are not being filed,and so action cannot be taken against negligent cops — and even reasonable statistics on crime rates are hard to come by — the states are likely to raise many objections to any move to make the registration of FIRs compulsory. These concerns are very valid

indeed. Harassment once an FIR has already been filed,of frivolous FIRs being taken advantage of by the occasional unscrupulous official in the criminal investigation and even the judicial hierarchy is already common. Nor will compulsory registration mean the system cannot be suborned later. It is a sobering thought that what is being asked for is that the FIR — which is,in the end,a potent instrument,the unleashing of the might of the law — be handed over to absolutely anyone with a complaint against the world. Can an

effort to ensure the police do their duty merely legislate that their duty be done?

The key problem is that there is no onus on the police officer to register,no direct liability if he fails to register. But dealing with excessive discretion by taking away all discretion will clearly have severe repercussions. Enforcing accountability by statute is,as our columnist pointed out on these pages recently,a problematic idea. Getting more legitimate complaints registered is an unquestioned necessity. But recording all complaints might not be the way to get there.

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