Supreme Court clubs all FIRs against Navika Kumar with Delhi Police, protects her from coercive action

THE Supreme Court earlier today granted relief to English news channel Times Now’s Group Editor, Politics, Navika Kumar, in the matter of first information reports (‘FIRs’) registered against her across different parts of the country for the controversial Newshour debate hosted by Kumar, telecast on Times Now on May 26. In this debate, politician, lawyer and then-Bharatiya Janta Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad that led to a diplomatic maelstrom, and public protests and violence.

A division bench of the court, comprising Justices M.R. Shah and Krishna Murari, directed that all FIRs and complaints filed against Kumar in relation to the debate, as well as all such future FIRs and complaints, be transferred to the Intelligence Fusion & Strategic Operations (‘IFSO’) unit of Delhi Police. The IFSO unit handles complex and sensitive cases of cyber-crime.

It further barred any coercive action against Kumar pursuant to the FIRs and complaints, as well as any future FIRs or complaints related to the debate, for a period of eight weeks, so as to enable her to approach the Delhi High Court or any other court for appropriate relief.

The court, however, refused to allow Kumar the primary relief sought by her, that is, the quashing of all present and future FIRs and complaints instituted against her in relation to the debate. Instead, it gave her liberty to pursue the relief from the Delhi high court under Article 226 of the Constitution or Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It also clarified that its ruling was not an expression of any opinion on the merits of the allegations in the various FIRs and complaints filed against Kumar.

The judgment outlined eight FIRs and complaints filed against Kumar relating to the debate: five in West Bengal, two in Maharashtra, and one in Jammu and Kashmir. All of them variously allege against her offences under Sections 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 298 (uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

Kumar’s counsel had brought to the attention of the bench that another division bench of the court comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala had, via an order on August 10, transferred the aforesaid FIRs and complaints against Sharma – a co-accused – to the IFSO unit of Delhi Police. Since there cannot be multiple investigating agencies with regard to the same complaints/FIR, Kumar had petitioned for a similar order in her case. This was not disputed by Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, appearing on behalf of the Union Government and the Governments of Maharashtra, the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ravinder Singh, appearing on behalf of the West Bengal government.

The court agreed with this contention, and granted Kumar relief by transferring the FIRs and complaints to the IFSO unit of Delhi Police on grounds of parity.

Click here to view the full judgment of the Supreme Court.