- Apprentice Lawyer
- Legal Jobs
The Calcutta High Court has stayed criminal proceedings initiated against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President, Amit Shah on allegations that he had delivered an incendiary speech in West Bengal on January 29.
Justice Jay Sengupta issued an interim order to this effect on Thursday, after noting that the Court needed to examine at length whether Shah’s speech was defamatory or if it provoked disharmony or enmity among people as alleged in the FIR. The judge, therefore, posted the case to be taken up next after two weeks while observing,
“It is indeed debatable whether the alleged utterances are objective enough or are capable of disseminating disharmony or inciting violence much less amount to defamation. No individual or identifiable group is alleged to have been defamed…
The present revisional application needs to be heard at length. Accordingly, let the matter come up for hearing as a ‘Contested Application’ two weeks hence.”
Another aspect raised by the Court pertained to whether the bar of Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) can be lifted by invoking Section 155 (4) of the CrPC.
The speech prompting the criminal proceedings had been made by Shah on January 29 this year during an electoral campaign in West Bengal. He is reported to have said that, “the Government of West Bengal will fall while counting process of the parliamentary election will be on”. Another controversial statement made was that pujas were not being allowed to be organised in West Bengal.
In response, complainant Atanu Giri lodged a complaint against Shah under Sections 153A, 427, 436, 500, 503, 504 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at the Contai Police Station. The complaint reportedly states that Shah’s speech had prompted BJP workers to attack the Trinamool Congress Party’s office in West Bengal, leading to several people being injured, apart from property damage.
In Shah’s defence, however, it was argued that his statements were not prima facie defamatory or incendiary. Inter alia, it was argued that a change in government is a distinctly possible election outcome. Therefore, to say that the West Bengal government would fall in the upcoming elections is not a defamatory statement.
It was contended that the statements made by Shah were general statements protected by his freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution. It was submitted that there is no cogent material to connect the speech with alleged violence.
Rather, Shah has argued that the complaint was maliciously instituted to prevent him from campaigning in West Bengal, and therefore that it is an abuse of court process. The State countered by arguing that there were several witness statements to show that many were injured and properties were damaged in the aftermath of Shah’s provocative speech.
The judge, however, expressed certain doubts as to whether the proceedings lodged against Amit Shah were appropriate. Inter alia, the judge raised eyebrows over how Section 436, IPC could be levelled against Shah in the FIR. Section 436 outlines the offence of causing mischief by fire. On this aspect, the State responded that there may have been a mistake on the part of the recording officer, or that the officer may have included the charge based on facts personally known to him.
The Court also queried whether the actual assailants who injured the people and caused property damage have been booked by the police. The State informed that a separate case has been lodged against the alleged perpetrators, in which Shah has not been named as an accused.
In view of these submissions, the Court deemed it appropriate that the criminal proceedings against Shah be stayed for a four week period, stating,
“In view of the above discussions and considering the fact that investigation is going on in the other case started against the assailants and the perpetrators of the alleged violence, I direct that the impugned proceedings relating to the Contai Police Station Case No. 34 dated 29.01.2019 shall remain stayed for a period of four weeks from this date.
The parties shall be at liberty to pray for extension of modification or vacating of the interim order upon notice to the other side.“
Read the order:
Image courtesy: Indian Express