J&K and Ladakh HC | Will a rumourous tweet make one legally liable even when one deletes it on coming to know it to be untrue? HC decides

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh High Court

Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court: Rajnesh Oswal, J., quashed the FIR against activist Sushil Pandit with regard to one of his tweets, stating it to be an abuse of process of law. The Bench stated,

“At the most from the tweet in question, it can be inferred that the petitioner was not in favour of the ceasefire during the holy month of Ramzan but the same can, by no means can be construed to be an act on the part of the petitioner to generate the consequences as envisaged by the section 505 RPC.”

The instant petition had been filed under section 561-A CrPC (now 482) for quashing FIR for commission of offence under section 505 Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

The facts of the case were that the petitioner who was an activist and expert of Kashmir affairs had tweeted with regard to the killing of 5 CRPF jawans. It was stated that after a couple of hours, when the petitioner came to know that it was a rumour he immediately deleted the said tweet. The tweet in question reads as under:

“Just heard, five CRPF jawans martyred in Pampore. Ramzan ceasefire is working. Question is who is it working for?”

The petitioner alleged that the Ex-Chief Minister of J&K gave the intentional communal meaning to the tweet of the petitioner and if the tweet of the petitioner is taken on its face value to be true, it does not carry any communal inflammatory language, which can create or spread communal hatred between two religious communities. Therefore, the petitioner had sought quashing of the FIR primarily on the ground that the FIR did not disclose the commission of any offence including the offence under section 505 RPC.

In Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 Supp (2) SCR 769, the Supreme Court while upholding the constitutional validity of section 505 IPC had observed:  “…it will be found that the gravamen of the offence is making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report (a) with intent to cause or which is likely to cause any member of the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or

(b) to cause fear or alarm to the public or a section of the public which may induce the commission of an offence against the State or against public tranquility; or

(c) to incite or which is likely to incite one class or community of persons to commit an offence against any other class or community…”

Thus mens rea is an essential ingredient of offence under Section 505 RPC and intention to generate the consequences as envisaged by section 505 RPC must be forthcoming from the plain reading of the statement/report or rumour and should not left at the discretion of a particular person. The Bench remarked,

“A perusal of the petitioner’s tweet would reveal that it begins with words “JUST HEARD”, meaning thereby that what was uploaded by him was just heard by him and he had no personal knowledge of the same respondents and this subsequent conduct of the petitioner also makes it ample clear that the said tweet was uploaded in a good faith without any criminal intention to generate the consequences as provided by section 505 RPC.”

Considering that exception to section 505 RPC clearly provides that it does not amount to an offence when a person making, publishing or circulating such report, rumour or report has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates in good faith and without any such intent, the Bench opined that the petitioner tweeted in good faith what he heard, believing it to be true, hence the impugned FIR was nothing but an abuse of process of law and the case of the petitioner fell within given exception.

Hence, the FIR was quashed. [Sushil Pandit v. UT of J&K, 2021 SCC OnLine J&K 696, decided on 22-09-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Appearance by:

For the Petitioner: Ankur Sharma, Advocate

For UT of J&K: Sunil Malhotra, Dy.A.G

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