SC Directs DE Novo Investigation in NLUJ Student’s Death Matter

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Introduction

Courts have the power to order further investigations under Sec. 173(8) of Cr.P.C. if it finds that the report submitted following an investigation is insufficient. On the other hand, the power to order fresh investigations is not recognized under the Code. Hence, the Constitutional Court in a catena of decisions has recognized its power to order a fresh investigation if the report lacks bonafide. It has further been recognized that the Right to a fair investigation is as much part of Article 21 of the Constitution as is the Right to a fair trial.  

Brief Facts

The case pertains to the death of a student at NLUJ. The Petitioner is the mother of the deceased seeking the writ of Mandamus to transfer the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The deceased’s body was found on railway tracks. Following the same, the University floated stories of depression as the cause of the student’s death. Hence, there was no FIR registered at the time. The FIR was registered only after 10 months. 

It was asserted that the police did not sufficiently investigate the case. Additionally, the deceased was not alone and was in the company of his friends. An entry in the registry indicates that the deceased returned to the campus. The same was not investigated properly. The deceased’s father approached the High Court. Being dissatisfied with the investigation, the Petitioner approached the Supreme Court. This Court ordered the police to complete the investigation within 2 months. Accordingly, a closure report was filed. 

Arguments

The Petitioner sought the setting aside of the ‘closure report’. The Petitioner prayed to the Court to order a fresh investigation. Per contra, the State submitted those inquest proceedings under Sec. 174 of the Cr.P.C was promptly commenced. Additionally, there was no deficiency in the investigation and the necessary evidence was collected and analyzed. Therefore, there was no requirement to order further investigation. 

Court’s View

The Court found the report submitted by the police to be inconclusive. The Bench found the submissions of the Petitioner to be of substance. The Court referenced to Kashmeri Devi v. Delhi Administration, (1988) Suppl. SCC 482. Therein, the Constitutional Court ordered a fresh investigation to secure ends of justice. Though Sec. 173 of Cr.P.C. does not recognize fresh investigation and the court can only order further investigation under Sec. 173(8) of Cr.P.C., the Constitutional Court can exercise the power to order fresh investigations. The Court also referred to its decision in Babubhai v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 12 SCC 254. Therein, the Court observed as follows:

“45. Not only a fair trial but a fair investigation is also part of constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, an investigation must be fair, transparent, and judicious as it is the minimum requirement of the rule of law. The investigating agency cannot be permitted to conduct an investigation in a tainted and biased manner. Where non-interference of the court would ultimately result in failure of justice, the court must interfere.”  

The Court then referred to its decision in Pooja Pal v. Union of India, (2016) 3 SCC 135, wherein the Court observed on the aspect of the power to order de novo investigations and affirmed the same. Additionally, the power of the constitutional court to order fresh investigation can be exercised even during the subsistence of the trial or even when examination of the witnesses is under process. This was observed by the Court in Dharam Pal v. State of Haryana, (2016) 4 SCC 160.

Court’s Decision

The Court found that the closure report filed by the State was in haste. The Bench stated that the investigation and the closure report ‘lack bonafide’. Hence, the Court set aside the closure report and directed a de novo investigation. The investigation is to be headed by a senior police officer of the State and the same to be concluded within two months.


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