The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday quashed a first information report (FIR) filed against Zubair PK, a social worker, and journalist from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for his tweets questioning the quarantine policy implemented by the local government in March and April 2020 (Zubair PK vs. The State).
Justice Shivakant Prasad observed that allowing criminal proceedings for the tweets would amount to sheer abuse of law.
The court said that allowing the criminal proceeding in terms of the FIR registered against the petitioner would amount to sheer abuse of process of law and misuse of the power of the Court as the allegation in the FIR appears to be absurd and no prudent person can ever reach a just conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused/petitioner. The FIR arose out of the following tweets by the Petitioner: Request #Covid 19 quarantine persons not to call any acquaintance over the phone. People are being traced and quarantined on the basis of phone calls. #StaySafeStayHome” The FIR was registered against the petitioner under Sections 51 and 54 of the Disaster Management Act 2005 which provides for action for causing obstruction to a government officer and for false warning.
Further, Sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection), 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection), and 505(1)(b) (fear or alarm to the public) of the Indian Penal Code were also invoked. The counsel for the petitioner argued that no ingredients of the offense alleged in the FIR were met. The Court, after examining the provisions and the tweets in question, found that there was no case under the Disaster Management Act arising from the tweets of the petitioner. The order said that the Tweet does not relate to any alarm or warning in relation to a disaster, neither is the case of the state that the tweet made by the petitioner has resulted to be a panic.
Further, while discussing the allegations under the IPC, the Court said that it could not find any disobedience to the orders passed by authorities which amounted to causing obstruction to any person. It was also pointed out that as per Section 195 of the Criminal Procedure Code, no Court can take cognizance of offenses under Sections 172 or 188 without a written complaint of a public servant. However, in the present case, an FIR was filed at the instance of the Aberdeen Police Station without following the stipulated procedure. Therefore, the Court stated, "the legal bar in the prosecution proceeding instituted against the petitioner is inherent as the FIR registered by the police station is not at the instance of any public on the complaint.
In this regard, Justice Prasad relied on the judgment of the Supreme Court in Daulat Ram vs. the State of Punjab, in which it was held that prosecution under Section 182 of the Indian Penal Code has to be on a complaint in writing by a public servant. The Court also found no grounds for the allegations under Sections 269 and 270 of IPC. There is no case laid before this Court that the petitioner was suffering from COVID 19 positive and was wandering in and around the neighboring area or in the locality in violation of the regulation relating to lockdown due to pandemic situation cropped up due to COVID 19.
In view of the above, the High Court concluded that no offense was made out and the FIR was quashed.