The Supreme Court on Friday said it cannot quash at the behest of a third party the FIRs lodged for allegedly pasting posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against COVID-19, as it will set a very wrong precedent in criminal law.
A Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah allowed petitioner-in-person, advocate Pradeep Kumar Yadav, to withdraw the plea but clarified that the dismissal of the petition will not come in the way of a genuinely aggrieved person approaching the court for quashing of the FIR.
“How can we ascertain the details of cases you have given to us. We cannot quash the FIR on the behest of a third party. It can be done only in exceptional cases like petitioner can’t approach court or his parents are here but not on behest of a third party. This will set a very wrong precedent in criminal law,” the Bench said.
Mr. Yadav said he filed the case details as the court had asked for it, and sought permission to withdraw his PIL, which the court allowed him to do so.
On July 19, the Supreme Court had asked Mr. Yadav to bring to its notice the cases registered and people arrested for allegedly pasting posters.
It had said it cannot issue blanket orders to police not to register FIRs over pasting of posters criticising the Centre’s vaccination policy.
Mr. Yadav filed the plea seeking to quash the FIRs registered by Delhi Police for allegedly pasting posters critical of Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against COVID-19.
He sought direction to Delhi Police Commissioner not to register any further cases/FIRs with regard to COVID-19 posters /advertisement/ brochures which have surfaced in context to ongoing vaccination drive.
Mr. Yadav said he was seeking indulgence of this court to intervene with the “illegal arrest of innocent general public” for their speech and expression by way of pamphlets affixed on the wall which is now spread in social media.
He said the court has held in a catena of cases that freedom of speech and expression with regard to the public cause is a fundamental right of every citizen guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
The advocate referred to Supreme Court’s 2015 verdict in Shreya Singhal case in which section 66A of IT Act was quashed and the recent order in suo motu case on COVID management, in which state authorities were directed not to register any criminal case against the public seeking medical help in the social media.
Violation of court orders
“In contrast to decisions of this court, the authorities are registering FIR against the innocent persons over their hate speech against the Prime Minister with regard to his official functions during the second wave of COVID-19 crisis and Government vaccine policies,” the plea has said.
The petitioner claimed that at least 25 FIRs have been registered and 25 people have been arrested in connection with posters that have surfaced across the capital.
“The petitioner herein is seeking quashing of FIR/ complaint, direction to the Commissioner of Police, DGP, not to register any other case/ FIR in relation to COVID-19 posters /Advertisement/ brochures surfaced in context to vaccination and case as the citizen have questioned about the status of vacations policy”, the plea said.
It said the FIRs have been lodged under IPC Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and those under the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act and Epidemic Act.
The petition has said that a 19-year-old school dropout youth, a 30-year-old e-rickshaw driver, a 61-year-old maker of wooden frames are among the 25 people arrested by Delhi Police for allegedly pasting posters with comments critical of the Prime Minister regarding the COVID vaccination drive.
The plea has also sought directions to Centre and Delhi police commissioner for calling of records about the FIRs registered in the matter.