November 16, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether a move towards e-FIRs is a good idea. We also look at the Ulgulaan movement in Goa, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is a move towards e-FIRs a good idea?
Being on the receiving end of a crime is not a pleasant experience. What follows it is not great either. Dealing with the police is seen as a distressing experience irrespective of whether one is a victim or a perpetrator. To put people at ease, the 22nd Law Commission in its 282nd report has advised the Centre to extend the scope of e-FIRs (Electronic First Information Reports).
As India is moving towards reforming its criminal system, a digital push which might simplify reporting crimes is a welcome move. However, as many of India’s police stations continue to function without even a landline connection, let alone internet-connected computers, the efficacy of such a move is questionable. e-FIRs also bring with them the issue of ‘Harassment FIRs’ filed by people to harass others without due cause.
The question surrounding the issue is principally this – can the Indian law enforcement structure bear the technical onslaught of e-FIRs while also protecting people from its menacing aspects?
In 2018, the Union Home Ministry referred to the Law Commission to study the feasibility of amending Section 154 of the CrPC to enable online registration of FIRs. The commission headed by former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi presented its report to the Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal on September 27. The report, titled ‘Amendment in Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for Enabling Online Registration of FIR’ was made available to the general public two days later on September 29.
The commission in its Report No. 282, recommends that “in cases where the accused is not known, registration of an e-FIR should be allowed for all cognisable offences”. According to The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973, cognisable offences are those in which police officers can arrest an accused without a warrant or court permission and are typically more serious such as murder, rape, or abduction. Non-cognisable offences are those in which police officers do not have the authority to arrest without a warrant.
In an e-FIR, the complainant does not have to visit the police station. Rather, they can register their complaint through a mobile app or the police’s online network. However, an ‘e-FIR’ does not automatically become a registered FIR. A copy of the e-FIR needs to be signed by the complainant physically within 72 hours to convert the complaint into an actual FIR.
e-FIRs were first introduced partially in 2009 via the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS). This initiative has been implemented in Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. In these eight states, e-FIRs are registered only in non-heinous cases such as theft, reporting lost items, and vehicle thefts. The commission has now recommended expanding this facility to other states and for other crimes as well.
The report was made in consultation with different stakeholders such as former police officers, legal experts, officials of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) and university professors. The registration of e-FIRs has thus been enabled in a phased manner, beginning with offences bearing a punishment of up to three years imprisonment. This would allow the relevant stakeholders to test the efficacy of the proposed system, and at the same time, keep the possible misuse of such a facility to a bare minimum as per the commission.
However, police experts say that while the move is novel it could run into practical difficulties. More than 7-8 years ago, Delhi Police started registering e-FIRs in cases of theft or vehicle theft. However, as per admissions of Delhi Police’s own retired Commissioner rank officers, there is very little investigation after filing e-FIRs. This is even indicated by the data on stolen vehicles recovered after filing e-FIRs.
The Law Commission is a non-statutory body, working under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. Following definite terms of reference from the Department of Legal Affairs, the commission conducts research in the field of law and makes recommendations to the Centre in the form of reports. These recommendations however are not binding on the government, although they may have some persuasive value. While how these recommendations will turn out is yet uncertain, amendments have also been proposed to the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; and the Information Technology Act, 2000 to ensure uniformity of laws in the filing of e-FIRs.
VIEW: Ensuring better justice
With the march of technology’s advent, the means of communication have progressed in leaps and bounds. In such a landscape, clinging on to an archaic system for registering first information reports (FIRs) does not augur well for a nation so ardently pursuing criminal reforms. Apart from the technical chicness, e-FIRs have several practical benefits too.
In various cases, visiting the police station is not feasible for the victims due to security or other infrastructural issues. Filing e-FIRs will prove to be a boon for such traumatised and tormented people. Filing e-FIRs would also help in overcoming reluctance shown by police officers to file FIRs in cases of petty offences or sometimes due to pressure from politically backed perpetrators.
With e-FIRs, the police will have to take cognisance of the complaint as the system will automatically generate receipts. This will ensure almost free registration of crime and the police will not be able to change the contents of the complaint which is done in cases when the accused is ‘well-connected’. e-FIRs would also tackle the long persisting issue of delay in registration of FIRs allowing citizens to report crimes in real time and also saving crucial administrative time for solving cases.
While there may be fears of misuse of this provision, the Commission has provided for the falsely accused’s safety in e-FIRs as well. The Supreme Court in Arnesh Kumar v/s State of Bihar stated that the police cannot arrest a person simply because there are charges of cognisable and non-bailable offence against him. The police must arrive at a reasonable satisfaction that the allegations are genuine before an arrest is made. This is a safeguard against the accused from any kind of arbitrary arrest. In addition, to maintain the privacy of the parties, the names of the suspects will be secured till the e-FIR is signed by the complainant.
The Commission has also planned to tackle ‘harassment FIRs’ as well. It has proposed an amendment under Section 182 suggesting imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to ₹10,000 against those who misuse the e-FIR facility to file false FIRs.
COUNTERVIEW: Physical police work essential
India has a little over 13,000 police stations. 628 of these are operating without a landline, while 285 run without a wireless connection. Thus, any online facility will only have limited efficacy until infrastructural issues are resolved. And even if the infrastructure was sound, digitisation is not necessarily a cure for police abuse. It was only this year that it was revealed that Gujarat authorities held a man in prison for an additional three years by claiming that they “could not open” the release order e-mail which the court had sent.
On the other end of the spectrum, a layman may not be aware of the legal intricacies and once registration of FIR by way of e-FIR in all cases is allowed, it may cause an extremely high investigative burden on police apart from curtailing its power to conduct a preliminary inquiry in appropriate cases. The possibility of ‘Harassment FIRs’ is also made easy with e-FIRs. Complainants speak to legal experts and tend to exaggerate their case details to put the other person in maximum discomfort. Due to experience, the police try to downplay what the complainants say which won’t be possible in e-FIRs.
Interaction with a police officer is also valuable in solving blind crimes as the first ‘golden’ hours are crucial in solving crimes which will be delayed by 72 hours in case of e-FIRs. Any investigation done prior to the actual registration of the FIR (signing e-FIR in 72 hours) will not be an investigation undertaken in the true spirit of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Additionally, once an e-FIR is filed, a designated investigating officer is supposed to contact the complainant. However, most e-FIR filers have reported no follow-up of any kind in their experiences so far.
The Commission in its report has also not discussed using the ‘e-authentication technique or digital signature’ as defined in the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, for signing complaints. However, in other government offices e-authentication is widely used by the income tax department to facilitate filing of returns electronically. Without affixing digital signatures or using e-authentication techniques, an electronic record transmitted to the police would legally be considered not more than an unsigned complaint at the current stage.
- Move towards e-FIR, but with caution – The Hindu
- Law Commission Recommends Allowing E-FIR Registration In Certain Cases – Live Law
- Law commission backs phased e-FIR roll-out – Hindustan Times
- Law panel favours enabling of e-FIRs to tackle delay- The Indian Express
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Moving towards e-FIRs at this stage is a good idea.
b) Moving towards e-FIRs at this stage is not a good idea.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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Why it matters: During this year’s Diwali, people in the state were allowed to burst crackers only for two hours from 8 pm to 10 pm. This was based on directions from the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Cities and towns where the air quality was moderate or below were allowed to burst green crackers.
Junior athletes neglected (Kerala) – About 160 athletes who represented the state in the recent national junior athletics championship were made to run around to arrange funds for their daily expenses since the government failed to provide them with daily allowances. Each athlete was supposed to get ₹400 per day as their daily allowance. Most had to borrow from teammates and coaches for their daily needs, including meals.
Why it matters: Most of the athletes came from modest backgrounds. Usually, the daily allowance comes from the Kerala State Sports Council. However, due to a fund crunch, the body wasn’t able to pay the athletes. They were informed about treasury restrictions which meant the council was unable to withdraw the money in a single installment.
Pulses at ₹1 (Jharkhand) – Jharkhand is looking to become the first state in the country to provide 1kg of pulses at ₹1 per month. The state has allocated ₹550 crore for this scheme to benefit 65 lakh ration card holders. The scheme was approved in August. The amount has already been paid to the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation.
Why it matters: While some states have distributed pulses at ₹1 per month during the festive season, Jharkhand will become the first state to do it year-round to all beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act. Currently, under the food security scheme, 35kg of foodgrains are being provided at ₹1 every month to nine lakh families.
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Why it matters: The timing coincides with the birth anniversary of tribal freedom fighter Bhagawan Birsa Munda. Despite constitutional provisions made by the state and centre, the ST community in Goa continues to be deprived of basic rights and amenities. The communities feel, that under Article 330 and Article 332, they’re entitled to their basic rights and political representation.
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Why it matters: Earlier this year, the state government announced a plan to invest ₹1,000 crore to build new and upgrade tourism infrastructure to make the state a world-class destination. In April, officials said they expected the ADB to sanction ₹180 crore for tourism infrastructure. To help generate more revenue, the government is focusing on tea tourism, eco-tourism, and adventure tourism.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
1.2 terabits – Huawei Technologies Co. and China Mobile Ltd teamed up with Tsinghua University and research provider Cernet.com Corp to build what they claim to be the world’s fastest internet network. They claimed to have achieved a stable bandwidth of 1.2 terabits per second.