The Supreme Court on Wednesday termed as “shocking” the practice of the Uttarakhand Police of filing closure reports in criminal cases even after courts have quashed FIRs.
A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar called it a procedure “unknown to law” and asked the chief secretary of the state and its police chief to tell all police stations of the state that no closure reports shall be filed in cases where FIRs have been quashed.
“We are literally shocked to know. When the criminal proceedings are quashed, how can there be a closure report of the case…We observe that there is no question of preparing the closure report under section 173 of CrPC when the FIRs are quashed. This is a process unknown to law,” the bench said.
The top court’s order came on an appeal filed by the Uttarakhand government challenging the October 27, 2020 order of the high court by which it had quashed an FIR lodged in Dehradun against two journalists — Umesh Sharma and Shiv Prasad Semwal — in July 2020. The FIR had been lodged under various provisions of the IPC related to sedition, cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy.
The high court had, however, ordered a CBI probe into allegations of corruption levelled by the journalists against then Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat.
The accusations pertained to alleged money transfer to the accounts of relatives of Rawat in 2016 in return for appointment of a person as head of ‘Gau Seva Ayog’ of Jharkhand when Rawat was the in-charge of BJP unit there.
Two days after the HC verdict, the top court had stayed the “drastic order” against the the then chief minister, saying it was passed without hearing him and it took “everybody by surprise”.
In a separate appeal filed by Rawat against the high court order, the top court had on January 3 this year quashed the direction for CBI probe and said the observations of the high court in its October 27, 2020 order were made without giving an opportunity to Rawat to be heard and hence are hereby “quashed and set aside”.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Arunabh Choudhary, appearing for Umesh Sharma, told the court the investigating officer in the case has filed a “closure report” even when proceedings are pending before this court against an order of the high court quashing the FIRs.
The top court was informed it is a common practice in Uttarakhand that an IO enters a “closure report” in the case diary in the event of courts quashing FIRs.
In its order, the apex court bench noted the investigating officer of the case, who was summoned to appear in-person, had tendered an unconditional apology for filing the closure report.
It said from the affidavit filed by the investigating officer it appears that closure report in the case was prepared by him and kept in the police station and not forwarded to the magistrate.
The bench said that ignoring the act of the investigating officer, the apex court will proceed to decide the appeal of the state government against the October 27, 2020 order on merit.
Sharma filed an application on April 17 saying, during the hearing on March 28, the state’s counsel had informed the court that a closure report dated January 8, 2023 was filed before the trial court in connection with the FIR that was quashed by the High Court in 2020.
Sharma said when the top court was seized of the matter the police could not have conducted or continued with the investigation and filed a closure report before additional chief judicial magistrate as it would be absolutely illegal.
He said an application under the Right to Information Act was filed seeking information about the closure report but he was told no closure report was filed before the magistrate and the document does not exist on the record of the trial court.
On March 28, the top court had noted it appears since the matter before it is pending for more than two years the investigating officer has thought it fit to close the proceedings.
“Apart from the fact that the aforesaid can be said to be hardly a good ground to submit the closure report, merely because the proceedings are pending before this Court which are, as such, against the order passed by the High Court quashing the FIRs cannot be a ground to submit the closure report”, the bench said.
It said, “Even otherwise, once the FIRs are quashed by the High Court, which are the subject-matter of the present proceedings, there is no question of thereafter submitting any closure report when the FIRs itself have been quashed. It shows the absolute non-application of mind on the part of the concerned Investigating Officer”.
The FIR against the journalists was lodged for posting a video on Facebook alleging a man named Amritesh Chauhan from Jharkhand deposited money after demonetisation into the bank account of a couple- Harendra Singh Rawat and his wife Savita Rawat, who are purportedly related to the chief minister.
Harendra, a retired professor, had lodged the FIR at a police station in Dehradun against Sharma and also alleged that the journalist was blackmailing him.