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HC quashes FIR by Himachal Pradesh police against journalist

A view of the High Court at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh

A view of the High Court at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh | Photo Credit: R. V. Moorthy

The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday quashed criminal charges against a TV journalist, who was booked for cheating and forgery, for allegedly revealing discrepancies in the process of issuing e-passes during the second wave of COVID-19 for the inter-state movement in 2021.

Justice Vivek Singh Thakur, in the order, said the petitioner did not commit any act with an intention to defraud, but for ‘reality check’ and verifying the working of system of online registration and generation of e-passes, regarding which it was claimed by State that e-passes would be generated after proper verification of documents uploaded with the online request.

Pointing out that the journalist brought a lapse in system to the notice of higher authorities, Mr. Thakur said, “...In given facts and circumstances it cannot be said an act done by the petitioner was with intent to defraud, therefore, it was not an act done ‘fraudulently’. The act by the petitioner was never done with intention of causing wrongful gain or wrongful loss to any person nor any such attempt was ever made by the petitioner and, therefore, in absence of such essential ingredients, as defined in Section 24 of IPC, act of the petitioner cannot be termed as an act done ‘dishonestly’.”

“In present case, both ingredients, i.e. ‘dishonestly’ or ‘fraudulently’, which are necessary for ‘cheating’ and ‘cheating by personation’, are missing. For absence of essential ingredients for ‘cheating’ and ‘cheating by personation’, there cannot be punishment for cheating under Section 419 IPC,” added the order.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 25, 2021, the Himachal government issued certain directions, mentioning the inter-state movement to the State would be monitored through the process of registration on the e-pass portal. Later, on May 5, the government issued a notification to impose ‘corona curfew’ in the State from May 7.

In the notification one of the guidelines was the registration on the e-pass web portal of the government of Himachal Pradesh for any kind of inter-state movement. To investigate the e-pass registration process, Aman Bhardwaj, the TV journalist conducted a ‘reality check’.

He filled the registration form on the portal for issuances of two e-passes for entering the state without assigning any valid reason. The registration so made was in the names two renowned personalities — Amitabh Bachchan and Donald Trump. The petitioner uploaded his own verification details i.e. “Adhaar card number” and “telephone’ number and mentioned two random vehicle numbers along with other details. Interestingly, passes so applied in the name of Amitabh Bachchan and Donald Trump were generated. The news was then broadcast on May 7, following this, the Police registered an FIR against Mr. Bhardwaj under section 419 (Punishment for cheating by personation), 468 (Forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (Using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of the Indian Penal Code, besides section 66 (d) of the Information Technology Act and section 51 of the Disaster Management Act registered in Shimla.

The order said that there was no sufficient material for lodging FIR against the petitioner of offences under Sections 419, 468 and 471 of IPC, Section 66(D) of IT Act, 2000 and Section 54 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 for absence of essential ingredients required for attracting these Sections.

“It is apparent that allegations made in complaint-FIR even if they are taken at their face value and accepted in entirety do not, prima facie, constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused. Therefore, finding merit in the petition, FIR No. 51 of 2021, dated 7.5.2021 registered against the petitioner in Police Station East Shimla and consequential proceedings arising thereto, if any, are quashed,” the order said.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2022 8:20:45 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/hc-court-quashes-fir-by-himachal-pradesh-police-against-journalist/article65636115.ece