- Apprentice Lawyer
The Supreme Court today dismissed as withdrawn a plea moved by Republic TV seeking to challenge the Constitutional validity of the Police (Incitement of disaffection) act, 1922, the provisions of which have also been invoked against the channel in an FIR registered against them by the Mumbai Police last October.
Whereas Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar contended today that it was a colonial product now being used to curb free speech, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde observed that the matter can be taken to the High Court.
"In 1960, the Bombay High has held it to be a valid act", Bhatnagar responded.
All the same, remarking that all the cases against Republic TV arose in Maharashtra, the top court proceeded to dismiss the petition as withdrawn with liberty to approach the High Court.
In particular, the petition had challenged Sections 3 and 5 of the 1922 Act, as violative of Articles 19(1)(a), 19 (1)(g) and Article 21 of the Constitution and against the principles of natural justice.
The petitioners also sought for the quashing of FIR no. 20 of 2020 registered by the Mumbai Police on October 23 in relation to a Republic TV broadcast on October 22. The said FIR invoked various provisions including defamation and offences under the 1922 Act and was filed against Republic TV as well as its editorial and newsroom-in-charge staff. By way of interim relief, the petitioners sought a stay on the FIR pending the disposal of the writ petition.
As per the petition, the October 22 broadcast in question concerned the existing state of affairs in the Mumbai Police and conveyed the views of certain right-minded members on the political dispensation in Maharashtra as well as within the police force in Mumbai. It touched upon the brazen manner in which the Mumbai Police Commissioner had conducted himself in pursing a personal agenda against Republic TV and its employees, the plea asserted.
The petitioners added that the broadcast referred to sources within the Mumbai police, who had expressed their views. As part of their obligations as journalists, the petitioners are duty bound to protect such sources and cannot be asked to compromise their identity in the garb of investigation, it was submitted.
In this backdrop, it was argued that the actions of the State of Maharashtra and the Mumbai Police to target the entire editorial staff and newsroom-in-charge (by way of the FIR) has a chilling effect on the right to report, the freedom of speech and expression, the right to practice any profession and the right to liberty.
It was further contended that the State government and the police have sought to falsely implicate the Republic TV and its employees under a 98-year-old draconian law i.e. the 1922 Disaffection Act, which was meant to curb nationalistic activity in the colonial era.
In this regard, the plea highlighted that Mahatma Gandhi had also written in 1922 to the Viceroy on how the law was a virulent form of repression.
Further, the Law Commission of India, in its 248th report, had termed the law as loosely worded, prone to misuse and a significant curb on the freedom of speech. The Law Commission had, therefore, recommended that the Act be re-examined in light of the potential infringement of fundamental rights to free speech and expression, the petitioners submitted.