21 Sep 2023 7:42 AM GMT
The Chhattisgarh High Court on Wednesday quashed an FIR registered against the former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Dr. Raman Singh and National Spokesperson of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Dr. Sambit Patra allegedly for spreading false information about the Congress party. While providing relief to both the BJP leaders, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Sinha and Justice...
The Chhattisgarh High Court on Wednesday quashed an FIR registered against the former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Dr. Raman Singh and National Spokesperson of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Dr. Sambit Patra allegedly for spreading false information about the Congress party.
While providing relief to both the BJP leaders, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Sinha and Justice NK Chandravanshi observed,
“In the instant cases, posting/tweeting a message which is more in the form of a political gossip, has been tried to given a shape of an act of spreading fake news and inciting of violence. From perusal of the FIR, it can be safely held that no offence whatsoever is made out against the petitioners.”
It added, "...tried to rope the petitioners as well as one Union Minister and other functionaries of the BJP on a petty political ideological tussle, which shows the malafide on the part of the said respondent as after lodging of the FIR, he has not cared to put forth his version in support of the FIR, before this Court."
On 18.05.2021, both the petitioners re-tweeted a message posted by a handle named ‘Team Bharat’ on the social media platform Twitter. The said message shared a document titled "Cornering Narendra Modi & BJP on COVID Mismanagement” with instructions to embarrass and tarnish the image of the Central Government and the BJP.
The document allegedly contained certain pointers to intentionally malign the Central Government, in connivance with certain friendly media-houses, for its failure to handle the pandemic properly. Such pointed directions were said to have been issued under the letter-head of the Research Department of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
The petitioners shared the said message on their respecting Twitter handles with the hashtag ‘#CongressToolKitExposed’. Subsequently, the State President of National Students Union of India (NSIU), the student body of the Congress party, filed a complaint with the police against the petitioners.
Accordingly, an FIR was registered against the petitioners under Sections 188, 469, 504, 505(1)(b) and 505(1)(c) of the IPC. Being aggrieved by the registration of such FIR, the petitioners moved the High Court praying to quash the same.
Contentions Of Parties
Senior Advocates Mahesh Jethmalani and Ajay Burman appeared for the petitioners and vehemently submitted that the FIR is completely baseless as the offences, under which it is registered, are not prima facie made out from the tweets. They argued that the FIR has been lodged merely to wreck political vengeance.
The senior lawyers further pointed out that on 19.05.2021, the police received the said information from the complainant at 04:05 PM and registered the FIR at 04:06 PM. Thus, they questioned as to how the police could ascertain the disclosure of cognizable offences barely within a minute and proceeded on to register the FIR.
Advocate General SC Verma, on the other hand, submitted that the police registered the impugned FIR only after the commission of cognizable offences were disclosed. He further argued that free, fair and transparent investigation in the matter is going on and therefore, it would not be apt for the Court to interfere at this stage and quash the FIR.
The Court, after perusing the messages posted by both the petitioners, held that none of the alleged offences is even prima facie made out upon careful examination of the said provisions.
“While we look at the offences registered against the petitioners and compare it with the messages/tweets of the petitioners, we are unable to comprehend as to how offence under Sections 504, 505 (1)(b), 505(1) (c), 469, 188 IPC are made out,” the Court observed.
The Court noted that Section 188 of the IPC deals with disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant. Here, the State has not been able to demonstrate any order duly promulgated by any public servant which has been disobeyed by the petitioners.
It also observed that Section 469 is in respect of forgery for the purpose of harming reputation of any party, or knowing that the document or electronic record forged is likely to be used for that purpose. It was of the view that the petitioners did not forge any document and thus, no offence under this provision is made out.
“In the present case, the tweet/message tweeted/forwarded by the petitioners herein was already available in public domain and it is not the case of the respondent/State also that the petitioners herein were involved in preparation of the said forged letter head of the Congress Party containing false information,” it held.
Similarly, the Court discarded the allegations made against the petitioners under Section 504 and 505 of the IPC and held,
“A plain and simple reading of the Petitioner's message/ tweet would show that no part of the aforesaid message/ tweet has any tendency to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence and till date, no such violence or disturbance of public peace and tranquility has been reported due to the Petitioner's tweet/ message and as such, no case under Section 505(1)(b) and (c) is made out against the petitioners.”
Merely Making Incorrect Allegations Not An Offence U/S 505, IPC
The Court was of the view that in the light of the definition and essential ingredients of Section 505(1) of the IPC, a careful perusal of the FIR would show that none of the ingredients of Section 505(1) is available and there is no allegation in the FIR which directly affects the security of the State or public order.
The Bench was of the further opinion that contents of the two posts/tweets made by the petitioners may be incorrect/untrue but the same cannot be said to have been posted with the intent to incite any class or community of persons to commit an offence against any other class or community.
“As such, merely making allegation against political party even if it is incorrect/untrue would not constitute offence under Section 505(1) of the IPC and therefore, the ingredients of Section 505(1) of the IPC i.e. either clause (b) or (c), are not available and thus, no offence under Section 505(1) of the IPC is made out against the petitioners,” it added.
‘Re-tweeting’ False Message Not An Offence
The Court observed that when the said re-tweets were made by the petitioners, the original tweet was already present on the social media. Therefore, if any action at all was needed to be taken, it should have taken against the one who posted the message originally and not against the petitioners who merely re-tweeted the post believing the same to be genuine.
“When the tweet made by the petitioners herein was already available in public domain, there was no reason to lodge FIR against the petitioners but even if it was required to do so, it should have been made against the first person who tweeted the false message. The petitioners under a bonafide belief considering it to be a genuine message, forwarded/retweeted the same from their social media account which was already in the public domain,” it held.
Accordingly, the Court found the FIR to be a mala fide one which was registered solely for settling political scores which, in its considered opinion, needed to be quashed at the threshold. Consequently, it quashed the FIR and all the related proceedings thereof against the petitioners.
Case Title: Dr. Raman Singh v. State of Chhattisgarh & another connected matter
Case No.: WPCR No. 323 & 325 of 2021
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Chh) 28
Date of Judgment: September 20, 2023
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment