The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted interim protection from arrest to actor Kangana Ranaut and her sister Rangoli Chandel in connection with an FIR registered against them under sedition and other charges, and directed them to appear before Mumbai Police on January 8.
A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik also questioned the police for invoking the sedition charge in the case, and said it was of the prima facie opinion that the Indian Penal Code Section 124A (sedition) was wrongly invoked.
"If someone does not fall in line with the government, then can sedition charges be invoked?" the court asked. The HC also said three summonses were issued by the police to the sisters and the same needed to be honoured.
The FIR was lodged pursuant to orders passed by the Bandra magistrate's court directing the police to carry out an inquiry against Ranaut and her sister following a complaint lodged against them for allegedly "trying to create hatred and communal tension" through their posts on social media.
The high court was hearing a petition filed by Ranaut and her sister, seeking to quash the FIR and the October 17 order passed by the magistrate.
"Three summonses have been issued and the applicants (Ranuat and Chandel) have not appeared. When summons are issued, you have to honour them," the court said, adding the police cannot keep looking at their (Ranuat and Chandels) convenience all the time.
Ranaut and Chandel's advocate Rizwan Siddiquee told the court that the sisters could not appear as they were not in Maharashtra, and said they were not trying to abscond from the investigation.
He assured the court that Ranaut and Chandel shall appear before the Bandra police in Mumbai on January 8 from 12 pm to 2 pm for recording of their statements.
The court accepted the statement. "We are of the prima facie opinion that interim protection till the matter is heard at length deserves to be granted. The police shall not take any coercive action including arrest against the applicants (Ranaut and Chandel)," the judges said.
"The applicants can come to Mumbai without any fear and record their statements. What is the harm in doing so," Justice Shinde said.
The court also asked why the sedition charge was invoked in the case.
"Why is sedition section invoked? Why are we treating citizens of our country like this?" the court said.
"Prima facie, we are of the opinion that invoking section 124A of IPC (sedition) is wrong. We do not understand why police nowadays are invoking this section in several cases," the bench said.
The court advised public prosecutor Deepak Thakare to consider holding a workshop for police and sensitise them on what sections need to be invoked in which case.
"If someone does not fall in line with the government, then can sedition charges be invoked? Ask the police to handle such cases with some sensitivity and dignity," the HC said. The bench has posted the plea for further hearing on January 11.
The police have filed the FIR against Ranaut and her sister under IPC sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race), 295-A (deliberate acts hurting religious sentiments) and 124-A (sedition), 34 (common intention).
Advocate Rizwan Merchant, appearing for the complainant in the case, told the HC that pending hearing of the plea, Ranuat and Chandel should be directed to not post any statement on their social media platforms regarding this particular case.
Siddiquee then told the court that the sisters shall not post anything on this case on their social media accounts. The HC noted that while every person has the fundamental right to speech, it comes with certain restrictions.
"When enjoying these fundamental rights, one needs to ensure that the rights of other persons are not infringed upon. Your rights cannot hurt others rights," the court said. Ranaut and her sister in their plea termed the magistrate's order issued last month as "arbitrary and perverse" and said it was passed without "proper application of mind".
Their petition before the HC sought to quash the magistrate's order and the FIR lodged against them by the Bandra police.
The plea also sought interim orders to the police to not take any coercive steps against the sisters and stay the summons issued to them.
"The applicant No 1 (Ranaut) is a public-spirited person and therefore is often vocal about her opinions affecting the public at large. She has actively spoken on various issues in order to lend support and alleviate social causes," the petition said.
The plea further claimed there was no real intention on part of the petitioners to incite one group or community against the other.
"Merely inciting the feelings of one community or group without any reference to any other community or group cannot attract the provisions of section 153A (promoting enmity between two communities) of IPC," the petition said.
A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he or she likes about the government, by way of criticism or comments so long as it does not incite people to resort to violence, it said.
The plea also said that the complaint was lodged only to harass Ranaut and her sister Chandel. The Mumbai Police last week summoned Ranaut and her sister for the third time to record their statements on November 23 and 24.
Magistrate Jaydeo Ghule on October 17 passed the order directing the police to conduct an inquiry and register an FIR on a complaint filed before the court by casting director and fitness trainer Munnawarali Sayyed, seeking action against the actor and her sister for their posts on social media.
In his complaint, Sayyed pointed out to the court several posts published by Ranuat and her sister on their social media accounts on actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death case, an incident of lynching of two seers in Palghar, and a
post comparing Mumbai to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The complaint said an investigation was required to ascertain the real motive behind such posts that allegedly create hatred and communal tensions.
Agreeing with the complaint, the magistrate in his order said, "Prima facie, on perusal of the complaint and submissions, I found a cognisable offence has been committed by the accused persons and a thorough investigation is necessary."
The police on the same day registered an FIR against Ranaut and her sister and issued summons on two occasions asking them to appear before it for recording their statement.
The sisters, however, responded to the summons saying they cannot come to Mumbai as they were in Himachal Pradesh for a wedding function at home.
Following this, a third summons was issued last week asking Ranuat to appear before the police on November 23 and Chandel on November 24.