ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Final Reports' under Sec-498A and the SC/ST Atrocities Act

The failure by the police to file a First Information Report is the subject of much debate but the Final Report by which a case is closed has received scant attention. This article reflects on the findings following a study of 100 Final Reports each under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police's differential stance on these two laws has major implications in terms of justice delivery.

Popular perception understandably associates justice with the courts. The much quoted Bollywood dialogue tarikh pe tarikh (date upon date) depicts the endless delay of justice in the courts, but nevertheless portrays the court as the dispenser of justice. However, in reality, justice at the first instance is much more beholden to what the police say. Therefore, justifiably, there is a concern about the refusal or delay in filing the First Information Report (FIR). The televison serial FIR is symbolic of peoples awareness of this first step in the justice system which sets the process in motion. Two important indicators discussed in the academic as well as the popular discourse on justice are incidence of crime and conviction rate. However, both these discourses do not focus much on the Final Report (FR) which is truly the first-line of justice/injustice delivery. It is almost a verdict by the police that the case does not deserve to go to the court. If oppression has indeed taken place, such a verdict by the police has serious implications for the delivery of justice. Not much public consternation is witnessed when a sizeable chunk of cases, sometimes amounting to 50% in the case of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (henceforth the SC/ST Act) and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) do not go to court. They result in the FR and are closed.

When a FIR is lodged, the police investigate and send it to the court (charge sheet) or close it because of mistakes of fact or law under Section 173 of the IPC. Theoretically, the superintendent of police (SP) sees the FR before it is submitted to the court, the court is supposed to inform the complainant, and the complainant has the option of a protest petition if s/he is not satisfied with the investigation. However both the SP and the court, with their heavy workload, may not have so much time to take the preventive action of scrutinising the FRs in detail from the point of view of law and fact before sanctioning it. That leaves a protest petition by the complainant as the only redress against a wrongful FR. But if the complainant is poor, illiterate and powerless before the social and politically powerful upper castes, how can s/he file a protest petition? Though s/he is supposed to know about the fate of his/her case, the information can always be stopped midway. Just like the dividend cheque of small shareholders which never seems to reach them or reaches very late, the notice may reach very late or be seized en route. It is the first-line/front line of justice/injustice. The complainant has two other options apart from the police station to lodge a FIR the SP office and the court. But the FR is solely based on police investigation. Though the judiciary is not bound to accept the FR, it cannot appropriate the investigative function of the police. Therefore, the FR which is based on police investigation is very important.

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