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Updated: November 25, 2012 10:48 IST

In midnight drama, two AI crew members were held under IT Act

Meena Menon
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K.V. Jaganatharao (left) and Mayank Sharma in Mumbai on Saturday. Photo: Vivek Bendre
The Hindu K.V. Jaganatharao (left) and Mayank Sharma in Mumbai on Saturday. Photo: Vivek Bendre

They were released on bail by Additional Sessions judge

While the recent arrest of two young women from Palghar grabbed media attention, what was not so well known was the case of two Air India employees who were arrested under Section 66 A and 67 A of the Information Technology (IT) Act in May and jailed for 12 days. The two decided to go public with their woes after the outrage over the girls’ arrests, hoping for some justice.

Thirty-one-year-old Mayank Sharma had returned home after celebrating his wife’s birthday on the night of May 10, 2012, when his doorbell rang at 1.30 a.m. Waiting outside were plainclothes policemen and two in uniform armed with semi-automatic weapons. “They told me to come to the police station with them and when I asked why, they just stared at me,” Mr. Sharma, who works as a cabin crew member of Air India told The Hindu.

Inspector Dinkar Shilwate followed him into the bedroom to make sure he changed his clothes and stared all the while he was doing so. When he tried to call a family member in New Delhi, the police snatched away his mobile phone. They later confiscated his laptop. While this was happening, in Thane, a group of policemen were outside the 15th floor apartment of Air India senior purser K.V. Jaganatharao, 50. The police asked him to accompany them and when he resisted, they told him they had a search and seize warrant. They insisted he come in the police jeep and his family too went along in the dead of night.

They asked Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao three questions before they were formally arrested at around 7.30 a.m. on May 11. Whether they had insulted politicians, did they threaten to bomb and kill politicians and did they insult the national flag? All along the route to the cyber police station in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) the police kept taunting Mr. Sharma asking him if he wasn’t scared of politicians.

Unlike the Palghar case where the two girls who were charged under Section 66 A of the IT Act got bail immediately, the two Air India employees, active trade union leaders, were in custody for 12 days. The first complaint against them was made by rival trade union leader Kiran Pawaskar from the Shiv Sena who later joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). No one acted on Mr. Pawaskar’s complaint on July 1, 2011 to a senior police officer Vishwas Nangre Patil. This was forwarded to the cyber police station, where police lodged a first information report (FIR) on March 29, 2012 accusing the two of uploading lascivious and defamatory content on social networking sites Facebook and Orkut against the complainant and politicians and also threatening the complainant Sagar Karnik (also of Air India) with death, and insulting the national flag. They were charged with Section 506(2) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66 A and 67, of the IT Act, apart from Section two of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971 by investigating officer Inspector Sunil Ghosalkar of the cyber police station.

On May 22, they were released on bail by Additional Sessions judge N.R. Borkar who held that it appeared that Section 67 A of the IT Act was not invoked at the time of registration of the FIR and was included while seeking remand. Mr. Jaganatharao told The Hindu that while the original FIR did not have Section 67 A as a charge, it was added by hand by the investigating officer and when this was brought to the judge’s notice, bail was granted. The section which refers to punishment for publishing sexually explicit acts in electronic form, is a non-bailable offence.

The police also took away their Air India identity cards, their passports, their laptops and mobile phones. The police in the remand report stated that there was a dispute in the cabin crew unions between Mr. Karnik and Mr. Sharma and Jaganatharao over the president’s post and they campaigned against Mr. Karnik and others using social networking sites. Union Ministers were also allegedly vilified. In addition the two allegedly threatened to kill the complainant or bomb him, and also insulted the Supreme Court and the national flag. One of the reasons for remand the police cited was the need to investigate whether Mr. Sharma and Jaganatharao had arms or explosives to carry out their threats.

It was only on May 18 that the magistrate allowed the two home-cooked food and their own clothes which the police opposed in court. Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao had to approach the Bombay High Court for release of their passports which was done by an order of October 25. They cited a Supreme Court ruling of 2008 which says while the police may have the power to seize a passport under Section 102(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, it does not have the power to impound the same. Impounding of a passport can only be done by the passport authorities under Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967.

After they got their passports back, they wrote a letter to Air India saying that they were in possession of their travel and identity documents. On November 21, Air India in a reply letter said they were placed under suspension from the date of arrest, May 11 till the time of release on bail, May 22. The letter said they would be assigned flight duties after completion of necessary formalities. Both are getting only their salaries minus their allowances.

A counter complaint was filed against Mr. Karnik that he allegedly threatened to kill Mr. Jaganatharao online but no action was action. This was a clear case of misusing the IT Act and the police by Mr. Pawaskar, alleged Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganatharao.

The police are yet to file a charge sheet in the matter.

Largest democracy in the world and gross misuse of law and power against
innocent common man.

from:  anonymous
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 05:44 IST

The way our police and governments are operating,one shudders even to post comments here.Are we truly living in a democracy?Makes one want to rethink.

from:  Raj Kumar
Posted on: Nov 26, 2012 at 04:59 IST

Hey I don't understand why the police are so active in arresting people under the IT act at the time of midnight?! May be to cause the maximum inconvenience to the public.

from:  K.Prashant
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 23:38 IST

Looks like Maharashtra is the equivalent of Taliban in India! Extremism
raising its ugly head? For sure... these two stories emanating out of
Mumbai in the last one week clearly show the Talibanesque tendencies in
Maharashtra's (shiv-sena) rule.

from:  lrao
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 13:26 IST

A PIL filed against Robert Vadra under the same section for his tweets which insults 1.3 billion people of this country was dismissed by the magistrate in Jaipur citing jurisdiction issues. This only goes out to prove the status of common people in this country.

from:  kavita
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 12:40 IST

I don't know when the Gundraj will end.

from:  priyanka
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 10:37 IST

Our legal system is full of contradictions allowing powerfuls to interpret the constitutional rights in the way they want.

from:  Atis
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 10:35 IST

now this is ridiculous ..!! gross misuse of the act by politicians ...

from:  kgaipal
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 06:30 IST

Wellcome to world's largest democracy....

from:  BRajpura
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 06:13 IST

Most pitiable indeed our country and rulers have sunk so low as to prevent sincere exchange of opinions, without any harsh or violent remarks but influence peddlers can take action against them ! Very strange situation; any crime should be clearly stated and established before arrest or punishment - Pray God admin understands this and works more sincerely !!

from:  Radhik Hairam
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 05:39 IST

This frenzy is nothing but fear of losing the power by the politicians.
It is clear now that Mumbai shut down due to fear. We the ordinary
citizens are desperate because the hooligans have started to appear more
in numbers everywhere.

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 05:21 IST

It is clear as day light that Politicians and their unscrupulous
servants have not woken to the 21 century information communication
technology (ICT) realities. They are slumbering in blissful ignorance,
oblivious that India is no long under Raj and they are dealing with
citizens with ICT enabled wide knowledge and interaction. Wide swath of
population are empowered with knowledge through ICT, which was
restrictive only to the elite earlier. Political classes are clearly
upset by the ICT skills and are finding themselves fully exposed. Our
masters who have replaced the British rulers will learn nothing from
Tahrir revolution of the power of new communication age, as after all,
main lesson of history is, that nobody learns anything from it. This
truth is as ancient as the world, but its age does not make it less
relevant.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 03:31 IST

What is happening? Is India becoming a banana republic. Some thing
basically wrong with the police all over the country and police in
Maharashtra particularly. It is high time the PM intervenes to establish
rule of law.

from:  S S Subramanian
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 03:12 IST

What is the difference between India and China? The police works for Politicians to harass citizens without any difference.

from:  shyaymal ganguly
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 02:22 IST

Other aspects of this particular case kept aside, what arises a sense of disgust and anger is the questioning of the police about being not scared of the politicians. If people start to be scared of politicians, it would mean the death of democracy. And if police are spreading this fear, then its like someone is hitting oneself with his/her own hammer. Police personnel salaried by the taxes of the individuals spreading the fear of the Politicians(selected and paid by the individuals for taking care of their social needs), seems like a system which strengthens the nexus of politicians and police personnel to rule the society by keeping individuals under a spell of fear, fear of unrestricted arrest and disruption of one's regular life. I hope individuals are not being scared of their social servants and are able to respect them for their services, while keeping them under check to not take undue advantage of the power society vested in their hands.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 02:03 IST

Reminds me of TADA...

from:  sourabh
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 01:52 IST

What was the hurry in arresting at 1.30 AM unless the alleged violators of law were a flight risk or were capable of causing damage to persons or property ? If citizens are not given decent treatment and treated with due process anarchy will start and the whole society will disintegrate. Abraham Lincoln wanted the Federal marshal to arrest the Chief Justice of the supreme court. Luckily the federal marshal refused. If the ruling parties and the police do not behave properly the criminal elements will soon take over the country. In 1965 Justice Mullah of Allahabad court wrote which was later expunged by the supreme court, " Where every fish barring a few stinks it is idle to pick out one or two and say it stinks. There is no other organized group of criminals whose record of crime will come anywhere close to that of that organized group of people known as Indian police force."

from:  T.S.Krishnaswamy
Posted on: Nov 25, 2012 at 00:16 IST
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