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Hanuman Chalisa row: HC rejects plea by Rana couple to quash FIR by Mumbai police

The high court observed that "declaration of reciting religious verses in the residence of another person… is a breach of personal liberty” of the other person, and that the state was justified in its apprehensions.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: April 26, 2022 1:24:31 pm
Independent legislator couple MLA Ravi Rana and MP Navneet Rana. (File)

The Bombay High Court on Monday dismissed as “devoid of merits” a writ plea by Independent legislator couple Navneet and Ravi Rana arrested in connection with the Hanuman Chalisa controversy. The couple had sought to quash an FIR registered by the Mumbai police for resisting their arrest.

They are likely to approach the Supreme Court against the order.

The court observed that “declaration of reciting some religious verses in the residence of another person (including Chief Minister) or at public place is a breach of personal liberty of another person.”

“Secondly, If the declaration is made that a particular religious verse would be recited on a public street, the state is justified in carrying apprehension that such act would result in disturbance to law and order,” the bench of Justices Prasanna B Varale and Shriram M Modak held.

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The court clarified that if the state government wishes to initiate any action pursuant to the impugned FIR, its officers shall give a 72-hour notice to the petitioners before taking such an action.

The couple had sought to set aside a second FIR registered on April 24 registered against them under IPC Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty). The petitioners had also sought protection from coercive action in respect of the impugned FIR and a stay on the investigation.

The Ranas were on Sunday sent to judicial custody by a magistrate court in connection with the first FIR under which the Mumbai police invoked sedition charges against them. The couple was arrested on Saturday night after they announced that they would recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s residence, triggering protests in the city and outside the residence by Shiv Sainiks.

The police registered an FIR under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 124A (sedition) and 153A (promoting enmity), and under the Bombay Police Act. Another FIR was filed under IPC section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of duty), which was challenged in the high court.

Advocate Rizwan Merchant, representing the petitioners, submitted that both the FIRs are based on incidents which occurred as a series of events and the offence under IPC section 353 could have been included in the same FIR. He said the petitioners do not want to go through humiliation due to a “second arrest”, citing his client had faced misbehaviour in prison.

Merchant argued, “The court cannot allow the second FIR to continue as if petitioners’ bail plea in the first FIR is decided and they move for seeking further reliefs, the police can arrest them in other FIRs including those registered in Pune, Osmanabad and Amravati. It is identical to the Amish Devgan case in which the Supreme Court had pulled up the prosecution.” He added that as there was no registration of an earlier FIR, the police could not effect the arrest of the petitioners in the second FIR and therefore the registration of the same is wholly “unsustainable and untenable.”

Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) Pradeep Gharat, appearing for the state, opposed the plea and submitted that the incidents in the two FIRs are “independent and different. ” Gharat said that though the petitioners later recalled their decision to chant the Hanuman Chalisa near the chief minister’s residence citing the Prime Minister’s visit to Mumbai on Sunday, mere declaration of the same gave rise to apprehensions of disturbance to the law and order situation and there was a threat of such a reaction whereby the entire government machinery could have faced the repercussions of the statement of the petitioners.

After the bench sought to know why the police had invoked section 124A (sedition) against the petitioners, Gharat responded that through the recorded statements, it was revealed that their motive was not simple and the Hanuman Chalisa was used as a veil under which the petitioners wanted to challenge the state machinery.

 

He added that as per the second FIR, when the police officers repeatedly requested the petitioners, they “were not in a mood to hear” them and instead in “a passionate manner” the couple “flatly refused to cooperate with the police officers”. The couple also argued with the officers and when they requested the petitioners to enter the police vehicle, they gave threats to officers,” Gharat added.

“We find considerable merit in the submission of the SPP… The petitioners who claim to be active in their political and public life are expected to act more responsibly. As it is said that with great power comes great responsibilities. Behaviour of responsible conduct from those persons active in public life cannot be an extra expectation but it would be a minimum basic expectation,” the bench held.

The bench also referred to a remark it had made on April 21 while hearing a plea by Union Minister Narayan Rane in the “slap remark against CM Thackeray” case wherein, it had expected “persons holding higher posts to act responsibly with each other…” Even though we observed this, “it fell on deaf ears. Hope better sense prevails. Probably we learnt a lesson that this court shall not expect something even from persons occupying responsible positions.”

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