Criminal Case quashed against 146 villagers In Church Amid COVID Restrictions To Offer Prayers For Departed Soul
The high court of Orissa passed a judgment on 05 April 2023, has quashed a criminal case pending against 146 villagers of a village in Rayagada district for allegedly congregating in a Church to offer prayers for a departed soul at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was prevailing and government guidelines restricting gatherings were imposed, in the case of Midiyan Pani & Ors. v. State of Orissa (CRLMC No. 701 of 2023), passed by the single Judge Bench of Justice Sashikanta Mishra
Facts of the case
Edison Lima, a pastor at the Baptist Church in Puttasingh in the Rayagada area, passed away on July 13, 2020. On August 13, 2020, the Puttasingh villagers organized a monthly prayer service in the church to offer prayers for the souls of the deceased. Furthermore, it was claimed that the petitioners were not keeping a distance from society by not donning masks. Since this congregation violated government regulations, a lawsuit was filed under IPC Sections 269/270/34. Following the conclusion of the inquiry under the aforementioned sections, the chargesheet was then delivered. After considering the accusations and the witness statements submitted in accordance with Section 161 of the Cr.P.C., the court below found the offenses to have occurred. The petitioner appealed the stated ruling to the High Court after feeling wronged by it. The petitioners made the argument that there is no evidence to support any violations of the government’s rules. Furthermore, there is no proof that the corona virus spread as a result of such a gathering. It was argued that starting a criminal investigation against so many innocent peasants amounted to a misuse of the legal system.
The court cited the Madras High Court’s ruling in A. Muniadhas v. The State, in which members of a political party were charged with a crime for protesting the non-construction of a government hospital on a site allotted at a time when the epidemic was at its worst. In that case, the Court determined that the petitioner had raised a genuine public concern, and as a result, there had been no negative consequences. It also determined that the petitioners had not engaged in any acts of violence. As a result, it had mandated that the criminal case against them be dismissed. In light of the fact that the villagers’ purported gathering did not inflict any harm and had no malicious purpose, but rather had assembled to pray for the souls of the deceased, the criminal case against them was overturned.
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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY HARSHEEN KAUR LUTHRA, RGNUL, PUNJAB
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