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Zero FIRs: Explained

The First Information Report (FIR) is the initial information recorded by a police officer about an alleged cognizable offence. Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, mandates immediate registration of FIR upon receiving such information. The concept of "Zero FIR" allows registration of an FIR at any police station, regardless of jurisdiction, if the crime occurred elsewhere. The objective is to facilitate quick redressal for victims and ensure timely action. Remedies are available if police refuse to register a Zero FIR, and action can be taken against delinquent officers. Courts and police have issued circulars to emphasize the importance of registering Zero FIRs to promote effective law enforcement and protect victims' rights.

I. Introduction: What is First Information Report (FIR)

The term “First Information Report” (FIR) refers to information recorded by a police officer on duty, provided either by the aggrieved person or any other individual, regarding the alleged commission of an offence. The police initiate their investigation based on the FIR. Chapter XII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C) addresses information given to the police and their authority to investigate. Within this chapter, Section 154 defines what constitutes the first information (the reader may benefit by referring to the said section).

Section 154(1) of Cr.P.C. contains four mandates for an officer in-charge of a police station:

  • The first enjoins that every information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence if given orally shall be reduced to writing.

  • The second directs that it be read over to the informant,

  • The third requires that every such information whether given in writing or reduced to writing shall be signed by the informant, and

  • The fourth is that the substance of such information shall be entered in the station house diary.

In other words, the essential ingredients for registration of an FIR are (1) what is conveyed must be information and (2) the said information should ex-facie disclose the commission of a cognizable offence.

II. Mandatory registration of FIR:

There is a clear provision in s. 154 Cr.P.C. for registration of FIR in case of a cognizable offence. However, whether the FIR needs to be registered immediately upon the receipt of information regarding the cognizable offence or whether the police should apply its mind regarding essential statutory aspects having been complied with, was a debatable point. This issue has now been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Lalita Kumari vs. Govt. of U.P. & Ors.: AIR 2014 SC 187. In such case, the constitutional bench of the Court held that the FIR should be registered immediately[1].

III. The territorial jurisdiction of the Police:

The registration of the FIR signifies the onset of investigation into the alleged offence. S. 156 of Cr.P.C. provides for the territorial jurisdiction of the police station which shall carry on such investigation and links it with the jurisdiction of the Court(s) within the limits of such police station. Thus, the police station within whose limits the jurisdictional court regarding the offence lies, shall have the jurisdiction to investigate such offence.

At the same time, s. 156(2) of Cr.P.C. makes the position clear by providing that no proceeding of a police officer in any such case shall at any stage be called into question on the ground that the case was one which such officer was not empowered to investigate. Thus, this provision widens the powers of investigation of the police.

S. 170 of Cr.P.C. specifically provides that if, upon an investigation, it appears to the Officer in charge of the police station that there is sufficient evidence or reasonable ground of suspicion to justify the forwarding of the accused to a Magistrate, such officer shall, forward the accused under custody to a Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of the offence upon a police report and to try the accused or commit for trial.

On a conjoint reading of the aforementioned sections, it can be understood that even if a police officer lacks jurisdiction over a particular case, he can still register an FIR upon disclosure of the commission of a cognizable offense. There is no explicit prohibition in the Cr.P.C. against a police officer taking such action. If the investigating officer arrives at the conclusion that the crime was not committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the police station, then F.I.R. can be forwarded to the police station having jurisdiction over the area in which the crime is committed. But this would not mean that in a case which requires investigation, the police officer can refuse to record the FIR and/or investigate it. (Reference: Satvinder Kaur v. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) & Anr., (1999) 8 SCC 728).

IV. Meaning of Zero FIR:

As already discussed above, in terms of s. 154 of Cr.P.C, if any information relating to the commission of any cognizable offence is received by a Police Station, the Police is duty bound to register the FIR. However, if the crime does not occur within the jurisdiction of the said Police Station, the Police are still duty-bound to register an FIR where the information about a cognizable offence is received. Such an FIR is termed as ‘Zero FIR.’ After registration of the ‘Zero FIR,’ the same has to be transferred to the concerned Police Station where the offence has indeed been committed.

Thus, a Zero FIR can be registered in any police station where information about a cognizable offence is received irrespective of whether it has territorial jurisdiction or not.

V. Enquiry or investigation in case of Zero FIR:

‘Zero FIR’ is an exception to the general rule of assigning a number to the FIR that is registered in a police station on the basis of the report that is lodged with the police. Therefore, a Zero FIR, as the name implies, is an FIR without a serial number. Police can enquire or investigate the case on the basis of the Zero FIR that is registered and if the police officer is of the opinion that the offence did not take place within the limits of his jurisdiction, he can send/transfer the FIR to the appropriate police station, which has got the jurisdiction. Therefore, the place of crime and jurisdiction of the police station becomes irrelevant when a cognizable offence is disclosed, and the police station is obligated to instantly transfer the pertinent documents over to the police station vested with the jurisdiction which numbers the FIR and begins the investigation.

VI. Need for Zero FIR:

The provision of ‘Zero FIR’ came up as a recommendation in the Justice Verma Committee Report, in the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, after the horrendous Nirbhaya rape and murder case which took place in December 2012. The report states: “A zero FIR can be filed by the victim, irrespective of their residence or place of occurrence of crime.” Thus, it can be stated that the only difference between ‘FIR’ and ‘Zero FIR’ is that an FIR is registered where the incident has occurred within the jurisdiction of a particular Police Station, and a zero FIR can be lodged at any Police Station irrespective of where the incident has taken place. A zero FIR is admittedly more efficient and is meant to provide quick redressal to the victim so that timely action can be taken after registration of the FIR. (Reference: Neelu Shrivastava vs State & Ors; 2021 SCC Online Del 5158).

VII. The objectives behind Zero FIR:

  • Ensuring immediate registration of FIR: The primary objective of Zero FIR is to facilitate the quick registration of an FIR without any delay. It allows aggrieved persons to report crimes promptly, regardless of where the offence occurred.

  • Addressing jurisdictional issues: Zero FIR helps eliminate jurisdictional challenges that often arise when a crime is committed outside the jurisdiction of the police station in which the victim first reports the incident. By accepting the FIR, the police station that receives the complaint initiates the investigation and can transfer it to the appropriate jurisdiction later.

  • Protecting victims and witnesses: Zero FIR helps protect the rights of victims and witnesses by ensuring that their complaints are promptly recorded, thereby preventing any potential delay in the initiation of investigations. This objective is crucial to maintaining trust in the criminal justice system and encouraging victims to come forward without fear.

  • Promoting effective law enforcement: By allowing for the immediate registration of FIRs, Zero FIR promotes effective law enforcement. It ensures that the state machinery is swiftly put into action thus facilitating the investigating agencies to take immediate action and initiate the investigation process, regardless of the location of the crime.

VIII. Remedies available if Zero FIR is not registered:

The remedies available to a person in case, an officer in charge of a police station refuses to register zero FIR are the same as that available to him as in the case of an FIR. Therefore if a police officer refuses to exercise the jurisdiction vested in him and to register a case on the information of a cognizable offence reported and thereby violates the statutory duty cast upon him, the person aggrieved by such refusal can send the substance of the information in writing and by post to the Superintendent of Police concerned who if satisfied that the information forwarded to him discloses a cognizable offence, would either investigate the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by any police officer subordinate to him in the manner provided by s. 154(3) of Cr.P.C.

Even after following the above procedure, if the Police fail to register the FIR, the aggrieved person can approach the magistrate court under s. 156(3) of Cr.P.C. and file a complaint seeking registration of FIR.

Hence, it can be understood that, under the law, the police can register an FIR in case of a cognizable offence even if the offence is not committed within the jurisdiction of the police station. In another scenario, if at the time of registration of FIR, it is known that the crime was committed outside the jurisdiction of the police station, the police after the registration of FIR should transfer it to the concerned police station for investigation. In the above-mentioned circumstance, the police would normally register a ‘Zero FIR’ and then transfer it to the concerned police station.

Action under section 166-A of the Indian Penal Code:

S. 166A(c) of the Indian Penal Code states as under:

“Whoever, being a Public Servant, fails to record any information given to him under sub-section (1) of section 154 of Cr.P.C., in relation to cognizable offence punishable under section 326A, section 326B, section 354, section 354B, section 370, section 370A, section 376, section 376A, section 376AB, section 376B, section 376C, section 376D, section 376DA, section 376DB, section 376E or section 509, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Thus, it can be seen that prosecution can be launched against a delinquent police officer who refuses to register FIR disclosing a cognizable offence under the said section. In pursuance of the same, recently the division bench of the Karnataka High Court, on 19.09.2019, on the basis of a PIL petition in W.P. No. 30666/2019 wherein a complaint was made by the Petitioner about the non-registration of FIRs on the ground of territorial jurisdiction, passed following directions to be issued by the State Government:

a) Even if the alleged offence has been committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Police station, FIR shall be still registered and the same shall be transferred to the appropriate Police station.

b) The Police officers should be clearly informed that the failure to comply with the direction of registration of FIR and receipt of information about cognizable offence may invite prosecution of the Police officer under section 166-A of the Indian Penal Code and it may also invite departmental action against them.

Thereafter in terms of the directions passed by the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka, the Karnataka police issued a circular to lodge Zero FIR and re-iterated the directions of the Hon’ble High Court for strict compliance by all the unit officers.

Similar directions were passed by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Kirti Vashisht vs State & Ors. 2019 SCC OnLine Del 11713, pursuant to which the Delhi Police issued a circular dated 20.12.2019 to be complied with by the police officers for registration of Zero FIR.

IX. Conclusion:

In conclusion, a Zero FIR is an FIR that can be registered at any police station irrespective of its jurisdiction when the information about a cognizable offence is received. It was introduced to ensure quick redressal to victims and prevent unnecessary delays or obstacles in the process of registering a complaint. The objectives behind Zero FIR include prompt determination of jurisdiction, thorough investigation, and timely action. If a police officer refuses to register a Zero FIR, remedies available include approaching the Superintendent of Police or filing a complaint before a magistrate court. Action can also be taken against delinquent officers under s. 166-A of the Indian Penal Code. The issuance of circulars by courts and police departments emphasizes the importance of registering Zero FIRs. Overall, a Zero FIR aims to facilitate prompt investigation and ensure justice for the victims of cognizable offences.

[1] The Supreme Court did carve out 5 exceptions to this mandate. These are cases where a preliminary inquiry is desirable given the nature of offence and the tendency of persons to file frivolous and non-genuine complaints. For instances, corruption is one such exception.

Authored by Prashant Singh, Associate at Metalegal Advocates. The views are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.


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