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Publication made in good faith is not an offence of public mischief – J&K High Court

In the case of Mohammad Salim Pandith Vs State of J&K & another [CRMC No.152/2018] Hon’ble Justice Sanjay Dhar held that merely because a report allegedly threatens to disrupt the tourist season does not bring its publication within the four corners of the offence as defined under Section 505(1)(b) IPC.

The petitioner had published a news item in daily Times of India titled ‘Stone pelters in J&K now target tourists, four women injured’ following which some travel agents lodged a complaint with the SHO. As per the complaint, the news item was based on false information and malicious intention with a view to disrupt peaceful tourist season and to create an atmosphere of threat amongst citizens of the country. On the basis of this complaint, FIR No.26/2018 for offence under Section 505(1)(b) of IPC was registered. Subsequently, the petitioner filed the instant petition under Section 561-A of the Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Procedure Code seeking quashment of FIR No.26/2018 registered by Police Station, Kothibagh Srinagar, for offence under Section 505(1)(b) IPC.

It was contended that the allegations made in the complaint do not make out any offence against the petitioner and, therefore, the FIR is liable to be quashed. The petitioner also contended that he is a renowned and reputed news reporter of a premier and prestigious newspaper of the Country and he had under a bona fide belief and in good faith reported the incident of stone pelting on tourists, which incident has also been acknowledged by the police, therefore, registration of FIR against him amounts to abuse of power and an attempt to gag freedom of speech and expression.

Court remarked that, “The provision of the Penal Code contains an exception to the effect that there will be no offence within the meaning of Section 505 IPC when a person making, publishing or circulating any such statement, rumour or report, has reasonable grounds for believing that such statement, rumour or report is true and makes, publishes or circulates it in good faith and without any such criminal intent which may fall within the ambit of Section 505 IPC.”

Court further relied on Supreme Court case of Bilal Ahmad Kaloo Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1997(3) Crimes 130 (SC), where the judgment in Balwant Singh & anr. Vs. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 SCC 214 was relied on, and it was held that mens rea is a necessary postulate for the offence under Section 505 IPC as could be discerned from the words ‘with intent to create or promote or which is likely to create or promote’ as used in clause (c) of sub-section (1). The Court further went on to hold that a person who had not done anything as against any religious, racial or linguistic or regional group or community cannot be held guilty of either the offence under Section 153A or under Section 505(2) of IPC.

Court held that, “Unless a publication has been made with an intention to cause fear or alarm whereby a person is induced to commit an offence against the State, the offence under Section 505(1)(b) of IPC is not made out. The publication of a report creating fear or alarm in the absence of inducement of a member of public to commit an offence against the State would not satisfy the ingredients of offence under Section 505(1)(b) of IPC.”

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