In a major ruling, the Supreme Court held Friday that the preliminary inquiry is not mandatory in all corruption cases and a formal or informal information disclosing a cognizable offence will be sufficient to initiate prosecution.
The type of preliminary inquiry, if necessary, will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, it said.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta set aside the order of the Hyderabad High Court of December 24, 2018, which had quashed the criminal proceedings initiated in a disproportionate assets case against a police officer as, among other things, no preliminary probe was conducted before lodging an FIR against him.
Allowing the appeal of Telangana government challenging the order, the top court said there is no set format or manner in which a preliminary inquiry is to be conducted.
The scope and ambit of such a probe being necessary before lodging an FIR would depend upon the facts of each case, it said.
The objective of the preliminary probe is only to ensure that a criminal investigation process is not initiated on a frivolous and untenable complaint, it added.
"Therefore, we hold that the preliminary inquiry warranted in Lalita Kumari versus state of Uttar Pradesh (2014 verdict) is not required to be mandatorily conducted in all corruption cases," the bench said.
"It has been reiterated by this Court in multiple instances that the type of preliminary inquiry to be conducted will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. There are no fixed parameters on which such inquiry can be said to be conducted. Therefore, any formal and informal collection of information disclosing a cognizable offence to the satisfaction of the person recording the FIR is sufficient," it added.
The top court rejected the contention of the accused officer that the 2014 verdict of apex court had held that a preliminary inquiry before the registration of a crime is mandatory in corruption cases.
The bench said that the 2014 verdict laid down the cases in which a preliminary inquiry is warranted only to avoid an abuse of the process of law rather than vesting any right in favour of an accused.
The top court said, "It must be pointed that this Court has not held that a preliminary inquiry is a must in all cases. A preliminary enquiry may be conducted pertaining to Matrimonial disputes/family disputes, Commercial offences, Medical negligence cases, Corruption cases etc".
It said that the 2014 verdict does not state that proceedings cannot be initiated against an accused without conducting a preliminary inquiry.
Referring to the case of accused police officer, the bench said that the FIR itself shows that the information collected is in respect of disproportionate assets of the accused officer.
"The purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to screen wholly frivolous and motivated complaints, in furtherance of acting fairly and objectively," it said, adding that in the present case, the relevant information was available with the informant in respect of prima facie allegations disclosing a cognizable offence.
"Therefore, once the officer recording the FIR is satisfied with such disclosure, he can proceed against the accused even without conducting any inquiry or by any other manner on the basis of the credible information received by him," the top court said.
The bench said that it cannot be said that the FIR is liable to be quashed for the reason that the preliminary inquiry was not conducted and "The same can only be done if upon a reading of the entirety of an FIR, no offence is disclosed".