Yesterday, the Chhattisgarh High Court struck down various First Information Reports (FIRs) filed against BJP National Spokesperson Dr Sambit Patra and BJP Delhi Spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga which were lodged in May 2020. Two FIRs were lodged against Dr Patra in Raipur and Durg, while one case was filed in Kanker against Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, Dr Patra’s lawyer Sharad Mishra said.
Two FIRs lodged against Dr Patra were quashed, one under Sections 499, 500, 501 & 505(1) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and another under Sections 298, 153A & 505(2) of the IPC. These FIRs were lodged against Dr Patra for making allegedly defamatory remarks against the Congress party and its leadership, including former PMs Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi.
Similarly, an FIR filed against Tajinder Bagga under Sections 153A, 505 of the IPC and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was disallowed by the Hon’ble High Court. The FIR against Tajindar Bagga was filed in relation to a complaint about Bagga for merely retweeting Dr. Patra’s Twitter post about former PMs Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi.
In the judgement, Justice Sanjay K. Agrawal observed that as far sections relating to defamation are concerned, the police do not have the power to investigate non-cognizable offences without the permission of a competent Magistrate. A non-cognizable offence is usually a minor offence, mentioned in the First Schedule of the IPC, for which the accused cannot be arrested without a warrant.
The judgment further elucidated upon the illegality of a police investigation into a non-cognizable offense without the competent Magistrate’s permission. It states that any subsequent permission granted at a later date cannot fix the illegality of the police officer initiating the investigation without permission of the Magistrate with jurisdiction.
About Section 505 of the IPC which deals with statements conducive to public mischief, the Hon’ble Court observed that making allegations against leaders of political parties, even if they turn out to be incorrect or untrue, does not constitute an offence under Section 505(1).
The Hon’ble Court also refused to consider the complainant, who is neither a family member nor near relative of either PM Nehru or Rajiv Gandhi, as an “aggrieved person” under Section 199(1) of the Criminal Code of Procedure.
The Court also observed that Section 298 of the IPC applies only in cases where oral words are uttered in presence of the person, and not in cases of written articles or social media posts.
“There is also no allegation that the petitioner wounded the religious feelings of any person including respondent No.4. As such, none of the ingredients for constituting the offence under Section 298 of the IPC is available against the petitioner. Therefore, taking the contents of the FIR as it is so far as the offence under Section 298 of the IPC is concerned, offence under Section 298 is not made out against the petitioner.”, the Chattisgarh HC said.
The Court also quashed the FIR filed under Sections 153A & 505(2) of the IPC, stating, “it is not the allegation that in the said tweet, two different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities are involved and as such there is no two different religious groups which is sine qua non for attracting offences under Sections 153A & 505(2) of the IPC and one of the essential and basic ingredients of the above-stated offences of involvement of two different groups is totally missing.”
The quashed complaints
On May 11, 2020, the Chhattisgarh Police had registered a case against Dr. Sambit Patra for supposedly promoting animosity between different groups and hurting ‘religious sentiments’ for his tweets against Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi. The FIR was lodged against Patra on the complaint of Chattisgarh Youth Congress President, Purna Chandra Padhi at the Civil Lines Police Station of Raipur under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505(2) (public mischief) and 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings).
According to the complainant, the tweets by Dr Patra could scare and provoke members of the Sikh community which may, in turn, disturb public tranquillity. He had also argued that tweeting such things was “prejudicial to the maintenance of peace and harmony between religious groups”. Refuting claims of the complicity of the two former Prime Ministers in either riots or corruption, Padhi had said that they were not convicted by any Court of law and as such the allegations levelled against them by Dr Patra were baseless.