The Bench of Justice Sanjay Dhar on October 8, 2020, exercising inherent powers of the court under Section 561 A of the Jammu and Kashmir (Code of Criminal Procedure) which is at par with Section 482 of Central (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973) passed the judgment in favor of petitioner Mohammad Salim Pandith a senior journalist In Times of India and quashed the FIR bearing number 26/2018 (registered under Section 505 (1) (b) Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) which is equivalent to Section 505(1) Indian Penal Code, 1921 ) of Police Station Kothibagh, Srinagar.
The cause of action in the case arose when some of the travel agents lodged an FIR bearing number 26/2018 (registered under Section 505 (1) (b) Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) in Police Station Kothibagh, Srinagar alleging that the petitioner on April 3, 2018, had published a news article in Times Of India titled “Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured” which is based on false information and malicious intention to disturb the peaceful tourist season and to create an atmosphere of threat among the citizens of the Country.
Section 505 of RPC deals with Statement Conducting to Public Mischief. Subsection (1) states that whoever makes, publishes, or circulates any statement and clause (b) of the Section deals with intent to cause, fear or alarm to the public to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.
The petitioner asserts that the incident of stone-pelting on tourists had taken place and also has been acknowledged by the police that two tourists got minor injuries on April 1 2020 when the vehicles in which they were traveling came in the middle of an area where stone pelting was going on thus the report was not based on false information and malicious intention.
The petition further contends that the FIR registered by the police is not lawful but amounts to an abuse of power and hence to be quashed.
The Court carefully examined the provisions of Section 505 (1) (b) Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) and stated that it further contains an exception that there will be no offence within this section when the person circulating such report has reasonable grounds for believing it to be true and publishes or circulates it in good faith and without any malicious intent.
The Court cited the Judgment of Orissa HC in the case of
Kali Charan Mohapatra v. Srinivas Sahu, AIR 1960 where it was held that “ unless the contents of a publication amount to incitement to an offence, the person who has published and circulated the same, cannot be held guilty under Section 505 Indian Penal Code, 1921”
The most important question for consideration that arose before the Court was whether a frank reporting of incidents in the newspaper attracts Section 505 of RPC because the persons engaged in business would have an adverse impact?
The court answered the question in the negative as it was of the opinion that reporting of events which a journalist has bona fide reason to believe can never be an offence and considering it as offence would violative of the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution Of India.
The court cited the ruling of Andhra Pradesh High Court in the case of A.B.K Prasad v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others, AIR 1997 where it was ruled that “ freedom of the press cannot be put in peril on the basis of the grounds which are unknown to law”
The court went through the documents which clearly showed that the petitioner had reasonable grounds for believing the report and published it based on true facts and it does not attract Section 505 (1) (b) Ranbir Penal Code (RPC against the petitioner.
Lastly, the court observed that during the pendency of the petition there was a compromise between the petitioner and the complainant also affidavit of the same has been filed, and thus in the absence of the compliant the Court exercised its inherent powers to quash the FIR.