"No doubt that the pandemic COVID- 19 situation has set alarm bells ringing not only in our country but the entire world over. Nevertheless, this Court is of the opinion that the social media has created a panic situation where a social divide is being brought in the minds of the general public on the basis of the communal identification of a group of persons."
The Karnataka High Court on Friday allowed the bail pleas of two men arrested allegedly for selling noxious watermelons with an intention to endanger public health.
The Petitioners, Rihan, aged 19 and Shahbazs, aged 20, had been arrested on the basis of a viral video whereby they could be seen picking up water melons from a drain and selling the same to the general public.
Accordingly, they had been booked under Section 270 of IPC for spreading infection of disease dangerous to life; and Section 328 of IPC for causing hurt by means of poison, etc., with intent to commit an offence.
After their bail applications were rejected by the Sessions Court, they had approached the High Court under Section 439 of CrPC.
The Single bench of Justice R Devdas allowed the bail pleas while expressing doubts as to the "intent" of the Petitioners, to commit an offence under Section 328.
The court noted,
Section 328 of IPC requires that a person "knowing fully" well that he is administering poison or any stupefying, intoxicating or unwholesome drug which would cause hurt to such person.
In the present case however, the court said,
"On the face of the material available on record, it cannot be said that the provision of Section 328 could be attracted in the present facts and circumstances of this case."
The bench observed that prima facie intent could not be established and the case appeared to be a distasteful repercussion of the prevalent "communal divide".
"No doubt that the pandemic COVID- 19 situation has set alarm bells ringing not only in our country but the entire world over. Nevertheless, this Court is of the opinion that the social media has created a panic situation where a social divide is being brought in the minds of the general public on the basis of the communal identification of a group of persons," the bench remarked.
In the present case, though the Petitioner's admitted that they were the two persons found in the video clipping, they denied to have indulged in any offence or activity which would cause any danger either to themselves or to the public to whom the water melons were being.
Emphasizing on the "intention" aspect, their counsel submitted that even assuming that the Petitioners were picking up water melons from a drain and were selling the same to the general public, Section 328 of IPC is not attracted.
Finding force in this submission the court held,
"though it is stated by the learned Counsel for the Petitioners that the water melons had fallen off into the open drain where there was no stagnant water or running drainage water, an impression is created as if the petitioners have wantonly dipped the water melons in the drain water and put up the same for sale to the general public which would cause serious health issues to persons who consume such water melons."
Accordingly, the court allowed their bail applications on furnishing a personal bond for a sum of Rs.50,000/- each with one surety.
The bench also clarified that its observations were only prima facie, as the court could not at this stage go into the details or test the veracity of the alleged intent of the petitioners, and thus the same would not prejudice the case of the prosecution before the trial.
"The matter requires a trial and only at that stage, the truth of the allegation could be tested. While dealing with the bail application filed by the petitioners, this Court is required to find out as to whether on the basis of the information received by the Police, the provisions of IPC are attracted or made out… On the face of the material available on record, it cannot be said that the provision of Section 328 could be attracted in the present facts and circumstances of this case. The other provision i.e., Section 270 which is pressed into service is punishable with imprisonment which could extend to two years or with fine or with both and the same is a bailable offence," the court said.
Case Title: Rihan & Anr. v. State of Karnataka
Case No.: Crl Petition No. 2378/2020
Quorum: Justice R Devdas
Appearance: Advocate Prakash MH (for Petitioners); HCGP Mahesh Shetty
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