The Arnab Goswami case in the Supreme Court resulted in quashing various similar FIRs which had been registered in different parts of the country relating to his TV programme broadcasted on 21.04.2020, viewed nationwide. Allegations in FIRs were communal in nature, instigating Hindus against Muslims and Christian .
Very often, multiple FIRs are challenged in courts. On legal scrutiny, it can be seen that facts in most of those cases, though appear similar, legally they are different like (i) FIRs have been registered arising out of the same incident (ii)FIRs have been lodged in cases where subsequently a related incident happened and a second FIR was lodged but the suspect remained the same, (iii) In many cases there is one larger common cause of action and separate complainant but accused are the same:like Banking or Real Estate fraud, (iv) another set of facts where incident is the same but rival parties sought to file counter FIRs against each other obviously with different allegations.
Apart from the provisions of CrPC, the Supreme court has evolved certain norms in the case of multiple FIRs .These norms include the ‘test of sameness‘ of allegations in the FIRs relating to the ‘same cause of action‘ or ‘incident’ obviously against the same person. The test of ‘sameness of allegation‘ in the FIR is relevant because there could be same incident when rival parties have conflicting allegations against different accused giving rise to more than one FIR relating to the same incident. Under these circumstances this principle shall not apply despite incident being the same because accused are different. In case the same set of persons are accused relating to the same incident, the accused may have arguable case in favour of quashing or consolidating the subsequent FIRs. When this principle is not applicable, mostly the cases are consolidated. For the purpose of consolidation, court’s view depends on the stage the case.
Arnab Gswamy Case:This principle needs to evolve further
The offensive contents are part of Republic TV broadcasts done on 16.04.2020 and 21.04.2020, anchored by Arnab Goswami, the accused in the FIRs . First FIR was lodged in Nagpur, Maharashtra (which was transferred by an earlier Order of the Supreme Court to Mumbai, at the request of Mr Goswami). Hence, this Mumbai FIR was considered to be the First FIR in relation to the allegations. Simultaneously or immediately thereafter, about 14 more FIRs/Complaints were registered against Goswami in States like Chattisgarh, Telengana, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand etc as this broadcast was viewed by the persons from respective states, generating cause of action. Incident and accused relatable to these complaints are the same. As reflected in the judgement, the allegations in these complaints are also identical. However, provisions of the IPC, complainants, police jurisdictions and States are different. During the investigation, quite surprisingly, mighty Mumbai Police requested for a protection order against the pressure and threat of Goswami allegedly exerted on Mumbai Police. As per the Application filed in the Supreme Court, It was alleged that Mr. Goswami through his channel terrorised and intimidated the Investigating Officer, subjecting the criminal justice system to ridicule, indulging in a vicious propaganda against the police force in general, further it was alleged that the accused was not co-operating with the investigation rather interfering with the investigation. Normally, Supreme Court ought to have dealt with such conduct of the accused very sternly. It is good that the Court has protected his personal liberty. However, other citizens should not get tempted to treat police in such a manner; they might lose their protection considering seriousness of allegations of police. Finally, the Court quashed all other FIRs, except the Mumbai FIR, against Goswami largely for three reasons; (i)the earlier settled principles of law on multiple FIRs, (ii) other FIRs constitute a clear abuse of process,(iii) Consent of the Senior Counsel for State of Maharashtra for quashing the subsequent FIRs registered at all other places. It has also held, rightly so, that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher rights than right of a citizen to express and speak.
Facts of earlier cases settling principles of law on Multiple FIRs
- Case of T.T. Antony(2001): A case of same incident and FIRs at two stages with time gap.
In this case the Supreme Court gave substantial clarity of this issue.In short, facts of this case is that a politician, contrary to advice of the administration, visited a particular area.It turned out to be an ill-starred day. Five persons died and six persons were injured in the police firing purportedly resorted to for the protection of the said politician and also of public and private properties. More than hundred persons suffered injuries in the lathi-charge followed and a few police personnel also sustained injuries.Police had opened firing at two places in the surrounding area and on the same day i.e 25.11.1994, two separate FIRs were registered. Thereafter a Judicial Commission was constituted. The report recorded that police firing at one place was not justified. This gave rise to a fresh cause of action leading to registration of a fresh FIR (third FIR) wherein one police personnel and one former Minister were made accused of murder, for the incident happened on 25.11.1994. The Supreme Court held that registration of this third FIR was not valid and investigation made pursuant thereto had no legal consequences and accordingly quashed by stating that “under the scheme of the provisions of Sections 154, 155, 156, 157, 162, 169, 170 and 173 CrPC, only the earliest or the first information in regard to the commission of a cognizable offence satisfies the requirements of Section 154 CrPC. Thus, there can be no second FIR and consequently there can be no fresh investigation on receipt of every subsequent information in respect of the same cognizable offence or the same occurrence or incident giving rise to one or more cognizable offences.”
- Muniappan Case; Mob violence; essentially a case of clubbing two or more FIRs in common chargesheet.
This case arose out of political procession of ‘road roko agitation’. Different groups from a mob attacked different vehicles in which many buses were burnt and damaged, a bus was set on fire in which three girls were burnt alive and many injured. One FIR was lodged 1.30 pm in relation burning of many buses on one rout. In relation to another bus, where three girls had died, second FIR was filed. However, after investigation, common charge sheet was filed after clubbing both the FIRs. After conviction of the accused in common charge sheet, grievance was raised against clubbing of the FIRs. Under these circumstances, it was stated that ‘Merely because two separate complaints had been lodged, did not mean that they could not be clubbed together and one charge-sheet could not be filed.’In Satinder Singh Bhasin case(2019), a case of clubbing of FIRs of similarly placed different purchasers/complainants of shops in a building project against the same builder/accused. Under these circumstances, separate complaints/FIRs have been permitted to proceed.
- Amit Shah case (2013), a case of separate but two related incidents with time gap.
One Sohrabuddin was killed on 25.11.2005 for which First FIR was registered. Later Sohrabuddine’s wife and another Tulsiram Prajapati were killed at a different place on 28.12.2006 for which fresh FIR was registered after Supreme Court intervention on 29.04.2011 and charge sheet filed on 04.09.2012 in the second FIR, during the investigation of first FIR. In the Chargesheet of second FIR, name of Amit Shah was mentioned as an accused. The second FIR and charge sheet dated 04.09.2012 were sought to be quashed. Case of the prosecution was that abduction of Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi and their subsequent murders as well as the murder of Tulsiram Prajapati are distinct offences arising out of separate conspiracies though interconnected with each other as the motive behind the murder of Tulsiram Prajapati was to destroy the evidence in respect of the abduction of Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi, as he was a prime witness to the said incident. However, the court held that narration in the charge sheet would clearly show that the killing of Tulsiram Prajapati was a fake encounter and was part of the same series of acts so connected together that they form part of the same conspiracy as alleged in the first FIR. In view of the same, there cannot be a second FIR dated 29-4-2011 and fresh charge-sheet dated 4-9-2012 for killing of Tulsiram Prajapati.
- Cases of Same incident butCounter FIRs by rival parties
In Upkar Singh case, two rival parties had sought to file cases against each other in relation to the same incident and the same was permitted to continue. Again, in a murder and dacoity case, where counter FIRs were filed by rival parties, the Supreme Court in the case Shivshankar Singh’s has stated that the ‘test of sameness has to be applied otherwise there would not be cross-cases and counter-cases. Thus, filing another FIR in respect of the same incident having a different version of events is permissible‘. In Kari Chaudhry(2002) case, a complainant’s false FIR was closed and another FIR was registered by police making the complainant of the first FIR as accused in the second FIR. Under these circumstances the court has stated that quashing the second FIR merely on the ground that final report had been laid in the first FIR is, to say the least, too technical. Essentially, this is a case of counter FIR and the second FIR cannot be quashed.
Why the Arnab Goswami principle needs a relook in future cases.
- Generally an individual’s right to express will not have the outreach which a news anchor shall have through the electronic means. Even if someone takes that benefit through technological advancement, he shall not have the credibility and legitimacy flowing from the government monitored and licensed Media. A news channel is granted license by the Government to report the facts and the anchor enjoys that privilege . Many of them use that licence and privilege to express his or her opinion and broadcast the same nationwide and such organisations are run commercially. In that process, if there are allegations of hate crimes, fake propaganda leading to causes of action in different parts of the country relating to the ‘one news/views’ broadcast (i.e ‘same incident’), whether the courts should apply the same norms as settled for general crimes of murder, robbery, arson, dacoity etc., which are mostly confined to a region amongst a defined class of people? According to me, it can’t be . These alleged crimes are not chain of one initial or principal crime in that sense to ignore all subsequent offences. By spreading hate or fake news, the impact can be different at different places leading to societal disorders, independent from each other, generating different complainants and application of different provisions of law. The principle of law needs to be relooked for electronic media generated criminal acts giving cause of action in different territorial jurisdictions, the nature of the crime and its impact on the society is much larger than individual crimes.
To put it differently, immunity given to offences by misuse of media freedom should be put on a different scale. It is organised and the consequences are nationwide. There could be a situation where due to one broadcast, riots taking place in five different regions/States in the country. Every state is free to initiate criminal action. Should only one State be given this power to prosecute by depriving all others? In every State, why their witnesses should be compelled to go to a centralised place? Would it not mitigating the inconvenience of an accused? In such cases, the accused would be common but the impacted persons would be different.
- Secondly, complaints were lodged in different States. Accordingly, the consent of counsel for one or few States can’t be considered relevant for quashing the FIRs registered in all other states without hearing the complainants of those quashed FIRs.
The offence of spreading the fake news constitute a class of offence having higher degree. Few decades back, fake news had minimal impact in the society as it was confined to local areas, but now it has become ‘infodemic’, if not controlled strictly, can obliterate the very edifice of our democratic polity.
Judgement of Supreme Court dated 19.05.2020 in WP(Crl) No 130 of 2020 (D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, JJ)
T.T. Antony v. State of Kerala, (2001) 6 SCC 181
C. Muniappan v. State of T.N., (2010) 9 SCC 567
Satinder Singh Bhasin v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2019) 10 SCC 800
AmitbhaiAnilchandra Shah v. CBI, (2013) 6 SCC 348
Upkar Singh v. Ved Prakash, (2004) 13 SCC 292
Shivshankar Singh v. State of Bihar, (2012) 1 SCC 130
Kari Choudhary v. Sita Devi, (2002) 1 SCC 71
This article was published in LiveLaw.in on 02nd June, 2020