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Multiple FIRs not permissible for same incident, accused cannot decide mode & manner of investigation; SC dismisses Arnab Goswami second petition

The SC on May 19, 2020 {Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India & Ors.} reiterated that “there can be no second FIR” where the information concerns the same cognisable offence alleged in the first FIR or the same occurrence or incident which gives rise to one or more cognisable offences. The SC held that this is due to the fact that the investigation covers within its ambit not just the alleged cognisable offence, but also any other connected offences that may be found to have been committed. The Court held that once an FIR postulated by the provisions of Section 154 has been recorded, any information received after the commencement of investigation cannot form the basis of a second FIR as doing so would fail to comport with the scheme of the CrPC. 

It was further held by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice D Y Chandrachud & Justice M.R. Shah, that to allow a journalist to be subjected to multiple complaints and to the pursuit of remedies traversing multiple states and jurisdictions when faced with successive FIRs and complaints bearing the same foundation has a stifling effect on the exercise of the freedom. It was held that this will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society. It was held that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express. It was however observed that we must as a society never forget that one cannot exist without the other. It was held that free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position.

Further, the Court reiterated that an investigation may be transferred to the CBI only in “rare and exceptional cases”.  It was held that one factor that courts may consider is that such transfer is “imperative” to retain “public confidence in the impartial working of the State agencies.” It was held that mere allegations against the police do not constitute a sufficient basis to transfer the investigation. It was held that the principle of law that emerges from the precedents of the Supreme Court is that the power to transfer an investigation must be used “sparingly” and only “in exceptional circumstances”. 

In the present case, the genesis of the FIRs and complaints originates in the broadcasts on Republic TV on 16 April 2020 and R Bharat on 21 April 2020 in relation to an incident which took place in Gadchinchle village of Palghar district in Maharashtra. It was alleged that during the course of the incident which took place on 16 April 2020, three persons including two sadhus were brutally killed by a mob, allegedly in the presence of the police and forest guard personnel. These broadcasts led to the lodging of multiple First Information Reports and criminal complaints against the petitioner. The petitioner before the SC apart from seeking quashing of FIRs, had also sought transfer of investigation to CBI.

The SC held that the petitioner now seeks to preempt an investigation by the Mumbai police. It was held that an accused person does not have a choice in regard to the mode or manner in which the investigation should be carried out or in regard to the investigating agency. It was also held that the line of interrogation either of the petitioner or of the CFO cannot be controlled or dictated by the persons under investigation/ interrogation.

The Court held that so long as the investigation does not violate any provision of law, the investigation agency is vested with the discretion in directing the course of investigation, which includes determining the nature of the questions and the manner of interrogation. In adopting this view, the Supreme Court relied upon its earlier decisions in which it was held that the investigating agency is entitled to decide “the venue, the timings and the questions and the manner of putting such questions” during the course of the investigation.

It was held that as per settled position of law, no transfer of investigation can be ordered “merely because a party has levelled some allegations against the local police.” Accordingly, the court held that it does not find that leveling such allegations would by and itself constitute a sufficient ground for the transfer of the investigation.

The Court further held that Social media has become an overarching presence in society. It was held that to accept the tweets by the petitioner and the interview by the complainant as a justification to displace a lawfully constituted investigation agency of its jurisdiction and duty to investigate  would have far-reaching consequences for the federal structure. Accordingly, the prayer for transfer of the investigation to the CBI was rejected by the SC.

It was also held by the SC that neither can an FIR be filed nor can a direction be issued under Section 156 (3) of the CrPC and it is only a complaint which can be instituted by a person aggrieved qua defamation.

The SC held that it would be inappropriate for the court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution for the purpose of quashing FIR 164 of 2020 under investigation at the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai.

It was held that the filing of multiple FIRs arising out of the same telecast of the show hosted by the petitioner is an abuse of the process and impermissible. Accordingly, those other FIRs qua same cause of action were quashed by the SC.

The SC held that it finds no reason to entertain the subsequent Writ Petition which has been filed by the petitioner in respect of the FIR lodged at Pydhonie Police Station (FIR 137 of 2020). It was held as the basis on which the jurisdiction of the Court was invoked in the first Writ Petition – the filing of multiple FIRs in various states – is absent in the subsequent Writ Petition. Accordingly, it was dismissed by the SC.

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