In a major embarrassment to Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the West Bengal Police for summoning a Delhi resident for her Facebook post criticising West Bengal government.
According to the reports, the West Bengal police had issued summons to a 29-year-old Delhi resident Roshni Biswas to appear before the Investigating Officer in West Bengal in response to a notice issued under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Biswas had ‘criticised’ lack of proper implementation of coronavirus lockdown in Raja Bazaar where a huge crowd had reportedly gathered. For her Facebook post, West Bengal police issued her summons. However, Roshni Biswas had challenged the issuance of summons to her by West Bengal police and the Calcutta High Court asking her to appear before police for questioning.
Supreme Court stays summons, slams West Bengal police
In a big relief to Biswas on Wednesday, the Supreme Court stayed the summons issued to her and warned West Bengal police saying that they cannot have citizens hauled from one corner of the country to another for a social media post criticising the government. The apex court also stayed the Calcutta High Court order asking her to appear in Kolkata and cooperate with the investigation.
A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said that if police were to issue summons to ordinary citizens in such a manner, it would force the courts to step in and protect the constitutionally guarded fundamental right of free speech under Article 19(1)(a).
“It is like saying how dare a citizen to write something against the government, we will haul her up by summoning her from any part of the country. Summoning her from Delhi to Kolkata is sheer harassment. Tomorrow, police from Kolkata, Mumbai, Manipur and Chennai will summon people from all parts of India to send a chilling message — you want the freedom of speech, we will teach you a lesson,” the bench said in a scathing attack against West Bengal police.
Do not cross line, we are here to protect free speech: Supreme Court
R Bansal, who appeared on behalf of the West Bengal government said Biswas would be questioned and not arrested. Responding to that Justice DY Chandrachud said that this is browbeating a citizen for exercising the right to free speech. One cannot be prosecuted for saying the pandemic is not dealt with properly, he observed.
“Do not cross the line. Let India remain a free country. We, as the Supreme Court, are here to protect free speech. The reason why the SC was created by the Constitution is to ensure that ordinary citizens are not harassed by the state,” the Supreme Court observed.
The West Bengal police had registered a case against Roshni Biswas for offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) involving promoting enmity between religious groups (Section 153A), outraging religious feelings (Section 295A), defamation (Section 500), breach of the peace (Section 504), public mischief (Section 505) and other related provisions under the Information Technology Act and Disaster Management Act.
Supreme Court had rapped Mamata Banerjee govt in the past
In a similar case, Priyanka Sharma, a BJP Yuva Morcha leader, was arrested in May last year for posting a meme of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media.
The West Bengal Police had booked Sharma under section 500 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code and under provisions of the Information Technology Act. She was slapped with a non-bailable warrant and was later taken into 14-day custody by the West Bengal Police.
However, a bench of the Supreme Court had granted bail to Priyanka Sharma. The judges had initially told Priyanka Sharma that she would have to apologise if she wanted a bail. As her lawyer had strongly objected the directive, the judges later cleared that Priyanka Sharma’s apology wasn’t a condition for her release on bail.