TWO months after the Congress argued for the removal of section 124A (sedition) of IPC in its manifesto, the Chhattisgarh police under the new Congress government sent Mangelal Agarwal, a resident of Rajnandgaon, to jail under the law for allegedly disseminating incorrect rumours about the electricity cuts in the state. The arrest was made Thursday, but with the state government coming under fire on Friday, senior police officials said the section had been removed from the FIR. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel also expressed his disapproval.
On June 12, NKP Singh, the law officer for Chhattisgarh State Power Distribution Company registered a complaint with the Rajnandgaon district police station that he had been forwarded a video circulating on whatsapp by Shailendra Shukla, CEO of CSPDCL and was asked his legal opinion. The video, which The Indian Express has seen, shows a man, later identified as Mangelal Agarwal, alleging he had been told by “inverter companies” that repeated electricity cuts in the area were due to a tie up between the state government and these companies.
The complaint alleges these deliberate lies are being spread to defame the power company and the Chief Minister and recommended the application of the sedition law. A case was then filed under section 124(a) and 505(1)(b) (intent to cause fear or alarm to the public) of the IPC, with the arrest then made on Thursday.
On Friday, the Congress struggled to explain its position on the subject, with spokespersons alleging that while they had stood against 124 A, it was for the local police to take a call on sections to be applied in the matter as long as the law is in existence. By 2 pm, Chhattisgarh DGP DM Awasthi told The Indian Express, “The section of sedition has been dropped. The FIR was filed based on the complaint that was made. But upon investigation it has been found that the section does not apply.”
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who was leaving for Delhi told reporters at Raipur airport, “Everybody should have the freedom of expression. If someone is expressing their opinion then sections like sedition should not be applied. We had even put this in our manifesto. When I got information of this, I expressed my disagreement. But I also want to say that social media should not be used to spread rumours, and there should be action under other appropriate sections.”
Last week, a resident of Raipur, Lalit Yadav was arrested under section 67(a) of the Information Technology Act for allegedly obscene comments against the Chief Minister in context to the suggested demolition of the Raipur Skywalk, the semi completed controversial Rs 70 crore project initiated by the BJP state government.