Criminal Public Interest Litigation No. 3 of 2015. Case: Sanskar Marathe Vs State of Maharashtra. High Court of Bombay (India)

Case NumberCriminal Public Interest Litigation No. 3 of 2015
CounselFor Respondents: Sunil V. Manohar, S. K. Shinde, Government Pleader, Mihir Desai with Vijay Hiremath, Advs.
JudgesMohit S. Shah, C.J. and N. M. Jamdar , J.
IssueConstitution of India - Article 19(1)(a); Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) - Section 124A
Citation2015 CriLJ 3561
Judgement DateMarch 17, 2015
CourtHigh Court of Bombay (India)


Mohit S. Shah, C. J.

1. Arrest of one Assem Trivedi on 8 September, 2012 on the basis of registration of First Information Report ('FIR') on 30 January, 2012 alleging, inter alia, commission of offence of sedition punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, led to filing of the present Public Interest Litigation which is now registered as Criminal PIL.

2. The allegation in the FIR is to the effect that Assem Trivedi, who is a political cartoonist and social activist, through his cartoons, not only defamed Parliament, the Constitution of India and the Ashok Emblem but also tried to spread hatred and disrespect against the Government and published the said cartoons on 'India Against Corruption" website, which not only amounts to insult under the National Emblems Act but also amounts to serious act of sedition. After the arrest of Assem Trivedi on 9 September, 2012, he was produced before the learned Metropolitan Magistrate. The petitioner alleged that Assem Trivedi refused to make an application for bail till the charges of sedition were dropped. Contending that publication and/or posting such political cartoons on website can by no stretch of imagination attract a serious charge of sedition and that Assem Trivedi was languishing in jail on account of the charge of sedition being included in the FIR, the petitioner, a practicing advocate in this Court, moved the present PIL on 11 September, 2012. The matter was mentioned for circulation and this Court passed the following ad interim order:

"In the facts and circumstances of the case, by this ad interim order we direct that Mr. Assem Trivedi be released on bail on executing a personal bond in the sum of Rs.5,000/-.

Registry to communicate this order to the Superintendent, Arthur Road Jail."

Accordingly, Mr. Assem Trivedi executed a personal bond and was released on bail.

Thereafter, on the returnable date, leave was granted to implead Mr. Assem Trivedi as respondent No.3.

3. The third respondent claimed to have exercised his fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression as a cartoonist and claimed that his arrest and detention seriously encroached upon the freedom guaranteed to every citizen by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.

4. Affidavit-in-reply dated 12 October, 2012 came to be filed by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Kherwadi Division, Mumbai stating that the third respondent had displayed several cartoons at a public meeting held on 27 November, 2011 at the MMRDA ground in Mumbai. The said meeting was held in connection with the movement launched by Anna Hazare against corruption in India. Apart from displaying the cartoons, he had also uploaded some of his cartoons on a website called "Cartoons against Corruption". Pursuant to the above display of cartoons, several complaints came to be filed against Aseem Trivedi.

On 10 January, 2012, BandraKurla Complex Police Station received a written complaint from Amit Katarnavare asking the Police to register an FIR, inter alia, under Sections 124A, 153A, 120B, 167 and 109 of Indian Penal Code. When the said complaints were forwarded to the Directorate of Prosecutions, Maharashtra State for opinion, the Assistant Director, Public Prosecution, Brihanmumbai vide his opinion dated 10 January, 2012 advised to invoke Section 124A of the IPC and provisions of State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005. On 30 January, 2012, BandraKurla Complex Police Station registered an FIR vide CR No.14 of 2012 under Section 124A of IPC, under Section 2 of National Honour Act and under Section 66A of Information Technology Act based on statement of Amit Katarnavare, which was recorded on 30 December, 2011.

5. In view of the above complaint, a non bailable warrant came to be issued by Additional Metropolitan Magistrate, 9th Court, Bandra, Mumbai on 2 August, 2012 against the third respondent. However, he could not be found and when he learnt of issuance of a non-bailable warrant against him, he surrendered before BandraKurla Complex Police Station on 8 September, 2012. On 9 September, 2012 the Metropolitan Magistrate granted police custody of the third respondent for seven days. However, on 10 September, 2012, Police produced him before the Metropolitan Magistrate as he had admitted to have drawn the cartoons. However, the third respondent did not apply for bail. Thereafter, as aforesaid, this Court passed an order dated 11 September, 2012 directing the Police to release the third respondent on bail on his executing personal bond.

6. Thereafter, BandraKurla Police obtained opinion of the then Advocate General with regard to invocation of Section 124A of IPC to the facts of present case, amongst other queries. Pursuant to the legal opinion of the then learned Advocate General, it was decided to drop invocation of Section 124A of IPC. The Police Department, however, took a view that as far as application of Section 2 of Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971 and Section 66(A) of Information Technology Act is concerned, the same will apply only to three out of seven cartoons, which will be dealt with in accordance with law.

7. In view of the above developments, the controversy about invocation of Section 124A of IPC would not survive any longer in the facts of the present case. However, learned counsel for petitioner submitted that since the Police had arbitrarily invoked the serious charge of sedition under Section 124A of IPC in a matter where the cartoonist was entitled to exercise his fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, this Court may examine the legal position so that such invocation is not resorted to, in future, in an arbitrary and irresponsible manner. We, therefore, heard the learned counsel for PIL petitioner, learned Advocate General for the State and learned counsel for third respondent Mr. Aseem Trivedi.

8. At the outset, we may reproduce Section 124A of IPC for ready reference:

"124A Sedition: Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts...

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