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Shiv Prasad Semwal V. State Of Uttarakhand And Others: Offense Under Section 153a Made Out Only When 2 Or More Communities Are Involved

Avantika Chavan ,
  27 March 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 3687 of 2020

CASE TITLE:

Shiv Prasad Semwal v. State of Uttarakhand and Others

DATE OF ORDER:

19th March, 2024

BENCH:  

Hon’ble Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta

PARTIES:

Appellants: Shiv Prasad Semwal

Respondents: State of Uttarakhand and Others

SUBJECT:

The judgment is based on the principles established by the Supreme Court regarding the scope of exercising powers to quash criminal proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution and Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

OVERVIEW:

  • The appellant is challenging an order dated July 20, 2020, passed by a Single Judge of the High Court of Uttarakhand, which dismissed Criminal Writ Petition No. 881 of 2020 filed by the appellant. The petition was filed to challenge FIR No. 31 of 2020 registered at P.S. Muni Ki Reti, District Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand.
  • The respondent No. 3, Shri Rajeev Savara, filed a complaint alleging that he owns land on National Highway No. 7 in Uttarakhand and had planned a foundation stone laying ceremony for a museum. The ceremony was scheduled for March 20, 2020, to be attended by the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand and other dignitaries.
  • Prior to the ceremony, an article was published in the e-newspaper 'Parvatjan' on March 17, 2020. The article alleged that the land where the ceremony was planned was government land unlawfully occupied by the complainant. It also allegedly defamed the complainant and his trust, inviting allegations of blackmail and intent to incite breach of peace.
  • The complainant alleged that the publication of the article was intended to tarnish his reputation and incite breach of peace. Consequently, an FIR (No. 31 of 2020) was registered at P.S. Muni Ki Reti, District Tehri Garhwal, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including 153A, 500, 501, 504, 34, and 120B.
  • The appellant filed a Criminal Writ Petition (No. 881 of 2020) in the High Court of Uttarakhand, claiming innocence and arguing that the allegations in the FIR did not disclose any cognizable offense. The appellant argued that the article in question was based on a Facebook post by a journalist named Gunanand Jakhmola and therefore, the appellant should not be prosecuted for its publication.
  • The High Court dismissed the writ petition on July 20, 2020, leading to the appellant's appeal.
  • The State filed a counter affidavit stating that during the investigation, no offense was found against the newspaper, its editor, or the appellant. However, the focus of the investigation was on the appellant and Gunanand Jakhmola, the journalist whose Facebook post allegedly formed the basis of the defamatory article.
  • The investigation revealed that only offenses under Sections 153A, 504 IPC read with Sections 34 and 120B IPC were made out against the accused, and charges under Sections 500 and 501 IPC were dropped.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

  • Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 153A: This section deals with offenses related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., or acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. 
  • IPC Section 504: This section deals with intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace. 
  • IPC Sections 34 and 120B: Sections 34 and 120B deal with criminal acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention and criminal conspiracy, respectively.

ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT: The counsel for the appellant strongly argued that the allegations mentioned in the FIR do not meet the necessary criteria for constituting offenses under Sections 153A, 504 read with Sections 34 and 120B IPC. 

  • They claimed that the words attributed to the accused in the FIR did not promote disharmony or ill-will between different groups based on religion, race, caste, or any other ground. 
  • The appellant's counsel asserted that the news article published on the online portal of Parvatjan did not contain any communal, caste, religion, race, or place of birth-based imputations. Hence, they argued that the ingredients of the offense under Section 153A IPC are not established from the FIR.
  • It was further argued that the contents of the news article did not promote enmity or hatred between different groups. Even if the allegations in the FIR were assumed to be true, there were no clear indications of involvement of multiple groups. The article simply reported on a proposed foundation stone ceremony by the Chief Minister on disputed land. 
  • The appellant's counsel contended that if the complainant felt aggrieved by the news article, the appropriate course of action would have been to file a complaint for defamation. Instead, they accused the complainant of misusing the criminal law process by filing a frivolous FIR against the appellant. 
  • Therefore, they urged for the quashing of the FIR and related proceedings. Arguments by State's Standing Counsel: The standing counsel for the State of Uttarakhand, opposing the appellant's submissions, referred to the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the state.
  • They argued that journalist Gunanand Jakhmola admitted during the investigation that his Facebook post had been manipulated. This suggests that the investigation might extend beyond the offenses initially registered in the FIR. 
  • The standing counsel further contended that by allowing the publication of a false and malicious news article, the appellant potentially incited strife and discontent between people from hilly and plain regions, constituting an offense under Section 153A IPC. 
  • Additionally, they argued that the offense under Section 504 read with Sections 34 and 120B IPC has also been applied by the Investigating Officer. Hence, they concluded that the case does not warrant interference with the impugned order.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS:

  • The court carefully considered the arguments presented by both parties, along with the impugned order and the materials on record. 
  • The case revolves around allegations stemming from a Facebook news post uploaded by journalist Gunanand Jakhmola and subsequently published on the Parvatjan news portal, operated by the appellant.
  • The court focused on whether the contents of the news report constituted any cognizable offense justifying the investigation into the allegations against the appellant. 
  • The court reproduced the disputed news article for reference, which criticized the planning of a foundation stone laying ceremony by the Chief Minister on disputed land, allegedly encroached upon by the complainant.
  • The court analyzed the allegations in the FIR and found that they lacked essential elements to constitute offenses under Sections 153A and 504 IPC. It noted that the news article did not refer to any specific groups or communities but primarily focused on the complainant's actions regarding the disputed land.
  •  The court referred to legal precedent, specifically the case of Manzar Sayeed Khan v. State of Maharashtra, highlighting the necessity of the presence of two or more groups or communities for applying Section 153A IPC, which was absent in this case.

CONCLUSION:

  • The court concluded that the allegations in the FIR failed to establish the necessary ingredients for offenses under Sections 153A and 504 IPC. Therefore, the subsidiary offenses under Sections 34 and 120B IPC were also deemed non-existent. 
  • The court noted the absence of allegations suggesting provocation of public peace or commission of other offenses under Section 504 IPC. Additionally, it observed that there were no allegations of attempted extortion from the complainant.
  • The court applied the principles laid down in the case of State of Haryana and Ors. v. Bhajan Lal and Ors., emphasizing situations where the exercise of extraordinary power to quash criminal proceedings is warranted. 
  • Considering the above analysis, the court concluded that the continuation of proceedings based on the impugned FIR would amount to a gross abuse of process of law. 
  • Consequently, the court quashed the FIR and all related proceedings against the appellant. The court allowed the appeal, thereby setting aside the impugned FIR and related proceedings. Disposal of Pending Applications: Any pending applications were disposed of accordingly.
     
 
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