[Aarey Car Shed Project] Sending text messages to IAS officer regarding preservation of trees does not constitute offence under S. 186 IPC| Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court: In a petition filed by Avijit Michael (accused) challenging the FIR filed against him alleging offence punishable under Section 186 of Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), a division bench of Sunil B Shukre and M M Sathaye JJ., held that by no stretch of the imagination, any offence punishable under Section 43(f) or 66 of the IT Act is made out in the present case.

A complaint was filed alleging obstruction had been caused to a public servant by the name Smt. Ashwini Bhide, a Member of the Indian Administrative Service, working as Managing Director of Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation. The obstruction was in the nature of certain messages being received on the official cell phone regarding the preservation of Aarey Forest because the corporation was then engaged in the construction of a car-shed on the land belonging to Aarey Dairy and this work envisaged the cutting of several trees.

FIR was filed by the complainant (respondent 2) regarding the commission of the said offence but there is nothing on record to show that Smt. Ashwini Bhide had written to respondent 2 and informed him about the alleged obstruction being caused to her by the person sending messages to her from a certain mobile number, which is alleged to be belonging to the petitioner. The present petition was filed by the accused seeking setting aside and quashing of the FIR.

The Court noted that no efforts have been made to find out the source of information of respondent 2 regarding the commission of the offence by the Investigating Officer and, therefore, it is still not known as to whether there was any such information available as was sufficient to disclose the commission of a cognizable offence so necessary for the registration of the FIR in accordance with the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code.

The Court further noted that on perusal of the alleged messages, it is clear that show at their face value the sender of the messages was the person who had the intention to make efforts for the preservation of the trees in the larger interest of society. These messages do not contain any offensive material or any obscenities, rather, they appear to have been sent in an assertion of a democratic right of citizens of this country to put forth his viewpoint, to object, protest, persuade, urge, and so on.

The Court remarked that upon such a complaint, as the one involved here, police must never book any ordinary citizen of the country under criminal law and if it does, it would be like suppressing his voice against what he considers to be a wrongful thing.

Thus, the Court held that the sender of those messages, who is stated to be the present petitioner, had acted in a bona fide manner, based on what he believed to be an act which was necessary for maintaining the health of the city of Mumbai.

[Avijit Michael v State of Maharashtra, 2023 SCC OnLine Bom 779, decided on 05-04-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Ms. Gayatri Singh, Sr. Advocate, with Mr. Vijay Hiremath and Mr. Surya Kale, for the Petitioner;

Mr. K.V. Saste, APP for Respondent-State;

Mr. Vijay Ghodia, i/by Mr. Rakesh Sawant, for Respondent 2.

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