The Allahabad High Court Tuesday granted Scroll.in Executive Editor Supriya Sharma protection from arrest in connection with a First Information Report (FIR) registered by the Uttar Pradesh Police against her for alleged misrepresentation of the complainant Mala Devi’s plight with regard to her life and living condition.
The FIR was based on a complaint filed by Mala Devi, a resident of Varanasi’s Domari village. Sharma had interviewed Mala on the impact of the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Domari village has been adopted by the prime minister under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. In the interview, Mala told Scroll.in she was a domestic worker and experienced food distress during the lockdown since she did not have a ration card.
However, Devi in her complaint to the police alleged that Sharma misrepresented her comments and identity. She claimed she was not a domestic worker, but worked as a sanitation worker at the Varanasi city municipality through “outsourcing”. Devi also said that she had not gone hungry due to the lockdown.
A bench of Justices Manoj Misra and Anil Kumar, however, refused to quash the FIR noting that the allegations disclosed commission of cognizable offence.
The FIR registered on June 13, booked Sharma under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, as well as Sections 501 (printing defamatory matter) and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The police also named the “editor-in-chief” of Scroll.in in the FIR.
The petitioners submitted that they had made an audio recording of the interview and the publication was a true representation of what was stated in the interview. The publication was made in public interest to highlight the condition of certain persons.
The bench, thus, ordered-
“Considering the facts and circumstances of the case and keeping in mind the petitioners claim that they have audio recording of the interview, the contents of which were reflected in the publication, we deem it appropriate to dispose off this petition by providing that investigation of the case shall continue and brought to its logical conclusion but petitioners shall not be arrested in the above case till submission of police report under Section 173 (2) CrPC. provided they cooperate in the investigation”.
The court also said if the investigating agency sought an audio recording of the interview, it would be provided by the petitioners.
In a statement on June 19, the Editors Guild of India had expressed its concern at the FIR against Sharma and Scroll’s Chief Editor.
The Guild called it an “overreaction” which would “seriously undermine freedom of the media.” It also noted the statement released by Scroll.in, saying that it stood by the article in question.
In the FIR filed on June 13, Sharma was booked for offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, as well as Sections 501 (printing defamatory matter) and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code.