SC stays West Bengal police summons to Delhi resident over FB post; slams police for “hauling” citizens from one corner of country to another

The Supreme Court Wednesday slammed the West Bengal police for issuing summons to a Delhi resident who had criticised the state government for the non-enforcement of lockdown norms.

“We cannot have citizens hauled from one corner of the country to another for a social media post criticising the government”, the Court said.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee was hearing a plea filed by one Roshni Biswas challenging a Calcutta High Court order requiring the petitioner to appear before the Investigating Officer at Ballygunge Police Station.

While staying the summons, the bench said cognizant as the Court is of the underlying principles which restrain the exercise of judicial review in the matter of police investigation, equally, the court must safeguard the fundamental right to the freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. There is a need to ensure that the power under section 41A is not used to intimidate, threaten and harass, the Court added.

“This is subject to the condition that the petitioner undertakes to respond to any queries that may be addressed to her by the Investigating Officer and, if so required, attend to those queries on the video conferencing platform with sufficient notice of twenty-four hours”, the Court ordered.

It also granted liberty to the Investigating Officer, if so required, to come to Delhi for the purpose of eliciting specific responses by way of clarification from the petitioner in regard to the alleged Facebook posts.

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, for Biswas, submitted that Biswas was willing to answer any questions of the investigating officer by email and even indicated that she would have been willing to proceed to Calcutta if the lockdown had been lifted in the first week of September 2020.

Jethmalani added that the petitioner was willing to cooperate with the Investigating Officer to establish that she had no connection with the post whatsoever. However, he argued that the condition precedent for the exercise of the power under Section 41A had not been met in the present case because neither was there a reasonable complaint nor credible information or, for that matter, a reasonable suspicion that the petitioner had committed a cognizable offence.

The Calcutta High Court while hearing Biswas’ pleas for quashing the FIR had granted a no coercive action order,  but had directed the petitioner to appear before the Investigating Officer, if a fresh notice was issued under Section 41A with ten days’ prior intimation.

The FIR contained a statement that the posts implied that (i) the State administration was going soft on the violation of the lock down at Rajabazar as the area is predominantly inhibited by a particular community and; (ii) that the State administration was complacent while dealing with lockdown violations caused by a certain segments of the community. The FIR relied on Facebook links.

Read the Order