6 April 2023 7:53 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed displeasure at Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Prashant Umrao for sharing wrong information on Twitter regarding alleged attacks against Bihari workers in Tamil Nadu. Observing that Patel should be more responsible, especially as a lawyer, the Court asked him to tender an apology for spreading misinformation.A bench comprising Justices...
The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed displeasure at Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Prashant Umrao for sharing wrong information on Twitter regarding alleged attacks against Bihari workers in Tamil Nadu. Observing that Patel should be more responsible, especially as a lawyer, the Court asked him to tender an apology for spreading misinformation.
A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and Pankaj Mithal was hearing two petitions filed by the advocate and BJP leader - a writ petition for the clubbing of the first information reports (FIRs) registered against him in different police stations over the tweet; and a special leave petition against the condition imposed by the Madras High Court while granting him anticipatory bail.
The bench issued notice on the writ petition and modified the condition imposed by the Madras High Court which required him to appear before the police for 15 days.
"The condition requiring the petitioner to report to the police station between 10.30 AM to 5.30 PM for 15 days is modified. He shall appear on Monday at 10 AM and thereafter as and when required by the investigating officer", the bench ordered.
Besides this, the top court also passed an ad interim order that the anticipatory bail granted by the High Court would be applicable to any other FIRs registered in the state of Tamil Nadu with respect to the same cause of action. State's lawyer Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that the other FIRs do not name Prashant as an accused.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing on behalf of Patel, told the bench that that the accused had only tweeted news that had already been shared by various media agencies. He said, "He tweeted. There was an inaccuracy. On realising that, he deleted the tweet. Now there are multiple first information reports harassing the young man."
Justice Gavai exclaimed, "Why should we be so sensitive these days?" The Supreme Court judge also expressed surprise at the bail condition imposed by the high court. "What investigation are you doing for five hours every day for 15 days," Justice Gavai asked.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state police, refused to accept that there was anything wrong with the said condition. "It is only for questioning," the senior counsel argued. He also pointed out that the BJP spokesperson had neither appeared before the police nor tendered an affidavit stating that he would refrain from posting any tweet that would promote enmity between different groups. The senior counsel said, "He should at least comply with the other conditions. Why has not filed the affidavit till today?". He also argued that his tweet was irresponsible and had far-reaching consequences. "Look at his tweet. He is a lawyer. A lawyer is saying that Hindi-speaking people are being attacked in Tamil Nadu. For a lawyer to say that..."
Justice Gavai asked, "What is his standing in the bar?" Patel has been a member of the Bar for seven years and is currently serving as a standing counsel for Goa, the bench was informed. "He should be more responsible," Justice Gavai said, asking the embattled lawyer to tender an apology before the next date.
Justice Gavai (to Prashant Umrao) : Before the next date, you tender an apology.Luthra (Prashant's lawyer) : I will tender an apology.#SupremeCourt #TamilNadu— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) April 6, 2023
Justice Gavai (to Prashant Umrao) : Before the next date, you tender an apology.Luthra (Prashant's lawyer) : I will tender an apology.#SupremeCourt #TamilNadu
On February 23, Umrao had posted a tweet claiming that 15 migrant workers were assaulted for speaking Hindi, of which 12 died. Last month, videos of migrant workers allegedly being attacked in Tamil Nadu were also shared on social media. They were eventually debunked as fake by fact-checkers and the state police department, but not before causing widespread panic. Patel was booked by the Thoothukudi Central police for allegedly spreading wrong information under Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of the peace) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief). He was granted anticipatory bail by a single judge of the Madras High Court, but Justice GK Ilanthiraiyan directed him to appear before the investigating officer daily for a period of 15 days. This condition has been challenged in the SLP filed before the Supreme Court.
Further, Patel was granted anticipatory bail only after he signed an undertaking before the jurisdictional magistrate swearing that he would refrain from tweeting or forwarding any such message that would promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. The BJP spokesperson, inter alia, contended that he had only retweeted stories that were published by private news channels. He also told the single judge that on finding out that the news was not confirmed, he had promptly deleted the tweets. Before the state high court, Patel also alleged that he was a victim of 'political vendetta'. Patel had also tweeted, "I do not support any discrimination on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, or language. I was made a victim because of an opposite political ideology."
Noting that his tweets caused a "sorry state of affairs", the high court judge remarked that Patel, being an advocate and a member of a national political party, should have thought about the consequences of such tweets. He wrote, "It is a sorry state of affairs that the petitioner is an advocate, and is actively involved in a national wide political party. He must have some responsibility over society. Before tweeting or forwarding Twitter messages, he must think about the consequences of the said messages and the genuineness of the said messages."
In the writ petition that was also heard together with the special leave petition against the Madras High Court's order, Patel contended that multiple complaints had been registered over the very same tweets posted by him.
1. Prashant Umrao @ Prashant Kumar Umrao v. Inspector of Police | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 4351 of 2023
2. Prashant Kumar Umrao v. State of Tamil Nadu | Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 143 of 2023
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