By - King Stubb & Kasiva on November 23, 2023
In a landmark development, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs recently explored the intricacies of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill (BNSS Bill, 2023), shedding light on the promising impact of online FIR (First Information Report) registration. The committee underlined the importance of allowing states to shape the modus operandi of online FIR registration, recognizing its potential benefits while urging a cautious approach to implementation.
The BNSS Bill, 2023, seeks to introduce a groundbreaking amendment to Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by proposing the inclusion of Section 173. This new provision advocates for the submission of information related to cognizable offenses either orally or through electronic communication, free from jurisdictional constraints. The police officer is mandated to electronically record the information, requiring the informant's signature within three days. However, the committee wisely advocates for the formulation of state-specific rules to govern the online FIR registration process.
While endorsing the integration of online FIR registration, the committee underlined the necessity of empowering states to determine the procedural specifics. Without appropriate regulation, the unbridled adoption of online registration may pose technical and logistical challenges for law enforcement. Moreover, an unregulated system could result in difficulties in tracking and managing the multitude of FIRs filed.
To address these concerns, the committee recommends the insertion of the phrase "as specified by rules" after "electronic communication" in Section 173. This addition would empower the government to prescribe specific modalities for electronic FIR registration, ensuring a standardized and efficient process across states.
Clause 173(2) of the BNSS Bill mandates the provision of a promptly delivered, free-of-cost copy of the recorded information to the informant or the victim. Recognizing that the informant and victim may not always be the same individual, the committee suggests the inclusion of the phrase "or both, as the case may be" after the existing language, fostering inclusivity in information dissemination.
The committee directs attention to the Supreme Court's directives in the Youth Bar Association v. Union of India (2016) case, emphasizing the need to provide information to the accused. It recommends the incorporation of a suitable provision in the Clause to align with the court's guidance, ensuring a comprehensive legal framework.
Online FIR registration signifies a transformative process, enabling individuals to file an FIR through the Internet rather than resorting to in-person visits to police stations. This approach allows citizens to report crimes or provide information using electronic devices. It is crucial to differentiate this process from the "Uploading FIR Online by police," which pertains to making a traditionally filed FIR available in digital form. The Supreme Court's directive in 2016 mandated all states to upload FIRs within 24 hours, highlighting the importance of swift and transparent information dissemination.
Presently, there exists no provision for e-FIR registration under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. However, the Law Commission's 282nd report endorsed online FIR registration for cases where the accused is unknown or where the offense carries a punishment of up to three years. The commission proposed the creation of a Centralized National Portal to facilitate e-FIR registration.
The Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) initiative has made significant steps, with eight states allowing e-FIR registration. These online portals serve as platforms for registering e-FIRs related to incidents such as vehicle or property theft and the loss of important documents.
Section 154 of the CrPC governs the recording of the first information about the commission of a cognizable offense. FIRs play a pivotal role in initiating criminal proceedings and tracking the guilty party. In Lalita Kumari v. Government of UP (2014), the court highlighted the significance of FIRs as a safeguard against potential misuse and emphasized their role in facilitating swift investigations, reducing manipulation, and upholding the rule of law.
However, a major hurdle persists in the form of delays in lodging FIRs. The committee acknowledges this challenge and underscores the need for a simplified and citizen-friendly FIR registration process. Leveraging technology, the committee suggests, should enhance the accessibility of police stations to the public.
The Second Administrative Reform Commission, in its 5th Report (2007), stressed the importance of simplifying the FIR registration process. It emphasized the need to make FIR registration citizen-friendly and advocated for the use of technology to enhance accessibility.
Building on this vision, the Law Commission of India, in its 239th Report (2012), suggested that FIRs should be recorded on computers and instantly sent to Magistrates' Courts via email, a process deserving legal recognition. The Committee headed by Justice JS Verma recommended allowing individuals to register complaints online on a designated website, with an automatically generated complaint number for tracking.
The Supreme Court, through its directives in the Youth Bar Association of India v. Union of India case, mandated the uploading of every FIR registered in police stations across India on official websites. These collective efforts aim to modernize and streamline the FIR registration process, ensuring transparency, accessibility, and efficiency.
As we pass through the evolving landscape of criminal procedure, the impetus for modernization is evident. The integration of online FIR registration is a monumental step toward a more accessible and transparent criminal justice system. However, it is crucial to strike a delicate balance between innovation and regulation to address potential challenges and ensure the effective implementation of these reforms. By delegating authority to states, incorporating necessary amendments, and drawing lessons from successful initiatives like the CCTNS, we can cultivate a criminal justice system responsive to the needs of the public and equipped for the digital age.
 3.12.5, CLAUSE 173- Information in cognizable cases, 247th REPORT ON THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA, 2023
 3.12.2, CLAUSE 173- Information in cognizable cases, 247th REPORT ON THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA, 2023
 3.12.6, CLAUSE 173- Information in cognizable cases, 247th REPORT ON THE BHARATIYA NAGARIK SURAKSHA SANHITA, 2023
 Youth Bar Association of India v. Union of India, (2016) 9 SCC 473
 Amendment in section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for enabling online registration of FIR, Report No. 282
 Lalita Kumari v. Government of Uttar Pradesh, (2014) 2 SCC 1
 Expeditious Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases Against 2012 Influential Public Personalities, Report No. 282
 Youth Bar Association of India v. Union of India, (2016) 9 SCC 473