In the present case, writ petitions present a common question of law and are thus determined by this common decision. The petitioners request the cancellation of the correspondence dated 07.07.2020, the investigative report dated 30.07.2020, an FIR No. 265 of 2020, in compliance with Sections 420, 467, 468, 469, 471, 120B IPC, Nehru Colony Police Station, Dehradun District. The parties and the contents of this judgment are referred to that in Writ Petition (Criminal) [WPCRL] No. 1187 of 2020.
On 27 October 2020, the Uttarakhand High Court asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to file an FIR and probe charges of corruption raised against Uttarakhand's Sitting Chief Minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, by a journalist (Umesh Sharma). [Umesh Kumar Sharma vs. State of Uttarakhand and others]
Besides, the Court also permitted the plea filed by journalist Umesh Sharma (who runs the local News Channel 'Samachar Plus') to quash the FIR filed against him in July 2020 for releasing footage containing accusations of corruption against TSRCM (Trivendra Singh Rawat Chief Minister).
As a matter of fact, he released footage about Rawat's alleged role of moving money to his relatives' bank accounts in 2016 (when he became in charge of BJP's Jharkhand) to support the appointment of an individual (AS Chauhan) in Jharkhand as the lead of Gau Seva Ayog. It was claimed that one Amritesh Chauhan of Jharkhand had deposited money into the bank account of Harendra Singh Rawat and his wife Savita Rawat for the personal gain of TSRCM after demonetization.
The accusation against the claimant was twofold that he had made false claims that some amount had been deposited in the account of the informant (Harendra Singh Rawat) and his family members, etc., and that he had made another misleading claim that the informant's wife (Harendra Singh Rawat) was the real elder sister of the TSRCM 's wife. Pursuant to this, this is the FIR [No. 265 of 2020] was reported at the behest of Harendra Singh Rawat (Informant) and Umesh Sharma (Petitioner) was charged for theft, forgery, conspiracy, and related offences.
Court’s order quashing the FIR
The Court observed that it was wise that "a deeper examination of any subject should not be carried out at this point, in the immediate proceeding. What is being argued is that there is no prima facie argument against the petitioner.
After considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court came to the opinion that none of the crimes referred to above was prima facie against Sharma. The High Court then quashed the FIR.
The opinion of the Court on IPC 124-A: - In fact, in the course of the arguments, the Court asked the Lawyer to explain to the State how the crime under Section 124-A IPC was committed. The response was that "it is a subject of inquiry." To this effect, the Court said, "If, prima facie, the issue is brought before the Court, without any review, the matter should certainly be left to the inquiry, but if, prima facie, the case is not brought up, in those cases, in the proceeding as an immediate one, intervention is definitely justified."
Moreover to the issue posed by the Court, how do the charges draw attention to the provisions of Section 124-A IPC? Even though the Chief Minister is suspected to have taken a bribe, how is Section 124-A IPC attracted? The Court of First Instance referred to the case of Kedar Nath Singh Vs. State of Bihar[i], in which Supreme Court noted that
“Any statute passed in the pursuit of public order can be spared from a presence of constitutional invalidity. If, on the other hand, we had to contend that it is well known that if any provision of the law were in one manner to make them lawful, another interpretation would make them unlawful, the Court would lean in favour of the former construction. The clauses of the sections read as a whole and, along with the explanations, make it fairly clear that the purpose of the section is to make illegal only certain acts that are planned or threaten to cause disorder or disruption of public peace by resorting to violence. As has already been pointed out, the explanations attached to the main body of the provision make it clear that any critique of public policies or remarks on government policy, however sharply phrased, must be within acceptable limits and would be compatible with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Furthermore, the Court noted that the levelling of false charges against an individual could never be sedition unless it qualified the test set out in the case of Kedar Nath Singh. [ii]The Court also said, “If allegations are levelled against the representatives, it alone cannot be sedition. Criticizing the government can never be sedition. Unless the public functionaries are criticized, democracy cannot be strengthened.”
It was pointed out by the Court that dissension in a democracy is still valued and found that, if it is silenced under sedition rule, it could be an effort to undermine democracy. “Adding Section 124-A IPC in the instant case manifests that it has been an attempt of the State, to muzzle the voice of criticism, to muffle complaint/ dissent”, opined the court.
At last, the Court opined, “It can never be allowed. The law does not permit it. In the instant case, whatever the allegations against the petitioner, they do not remotely connect with Section 124-A IPC. An offence under Section 124-A IPC is not, prima-facie, made out. Why this section is added, it’s beyond comprehension. Whatever is stated on behalf of the State, on this aspect, has no merit at all.” It may be noted that in September 2020, the Uttarakhand High Court, while granting interim bail to a Journalist had remarked, “What troubles more is as to how Section 124-A IPC is added? Even if for the sake of arguments, it is admitted that some allegations were levelled against some high functionary, does it per se amount to sedition, which is punishable under Section 124-A IPC? Why was the State in such haste? Is it a cruel hand of the State, which is running over? Many questions would perhaps also require an answer in this bail.”
[i] Kedarnath Singh Vs. The state of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955
[ii] Kedarnath Singh Vs. The state of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955