A special bench of CJI D Y Chandrachud and Justices M R Shah and P S Narasimha, constituted within 30 minutes of senior advocate A M Singhvi seeking urgent hearing on Khera’s petition for quashing of FIRs lodged against him at Haflong in Assam, and Lucknow and Varanasi in UP, ordered his immediate release but refused to quash the FIRs while deprecating his utterances.
‘Gautamdas’ remark: Supreme Court grants interim bail to Pawan Khera, was deplaned and arrested by Assam Police at Delhi airport
“Some level has to be maintained in public speeches,” the court said. Even Khera’s counsel disapproved of the language. Khera tendered an unconditional apology for his mistake. Singhvi said he had been the main Congress spokesperson for years and would not stand by use of such inappropriate language.
The SC ordered Khera’s immediate release on interim bail till Tuesday and posted his petition for hearing on Monday to explore the possibility of clubbing the three FIRs at one place, since the moot issue in all was Khera’s objectionable words at a presser.
The bench watched the video clip of Khera’s press conference at Mumbai on February 17, where he was heard saying Narendra Gautamdas Modi, despite someone prompting him to say ‘Damodardas’ instead. After that he was heard asking, “Is it Gautamdas or Damodardas?” Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati said it was a clear case of insulting the country’s elected PM and a bid to cause breach of public peace by inciting mischief through peddling lies.
When the bench clarified that the FIRs could not be quashed in a petition filed directly in the SC crutched on Article 32 of the Constitution, Singhvi said arresting a person in a democracy for utterances, howsoever deplorable and avoidable these may be, would ring the death knell for the right to free speech.
Singhvi said Assam police, which registered the FIR on Thursday itself, had given no prior notice under Section 41 of CrPC as required under law for Khera’s arrest as offences under none of the IPC provisions invoked in the FIRs — 153A (acting prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (making imputation that a person cannot owe allegiance to the Constitution because of their race, religion, caste or community), 295 (defiling places of worship or object held sacred by any class of persons), 500 (defamation), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of public peace) and 505 (intentionally circulating rumours to cause mischief)— are punishable with more than seven years’ imprisonment. The bench said the petitioner will have to seek regular bail before the competent court.