The High Court of Karnataka on Tuesday extended the interim protection granted to Aaj Tak consulting editor Sudhir Chaudhary till 9 October.
A single judge bench of Justice Hemant Chandangoudar heard the counsel for Chaudhary, Uday Holla, on the plea for quashing the FIR lodged against the journalist in the Seshadripuram police station in Bengaluru and adjourned the hearing after extending the protection.
Chaudhary’s counsel argued that criticism of government policies was permissible and it did not attract the provision of Section 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under which Chaudhary was booked.
‘No violence since telecast’
He also pointed out that since the report was published on 11 September there had been no violence which means that people had taken it rightly.
The court had on 15 September directed the police not to take coercive action against Chaudhary.
While providing interim relief to Chaudhary till the next hearing, the court held that there was prima facie a case that was fit for further investigation.
The high court also said that it would dispose of the petition filed by Chaudhary challenging the FIR. The court did not grant Chaudhary an interim order to stay the proceedings in the case.
The court said that the scheme established for minorities by the KMDC could be criticised by any person including the media, but the case against Chaudhary — “whether the allegations that news item telecast by the petitioner satisfies essentials of Section 153A IPC… — needs to be examined”.
Senior counsel Holla argued that the scheme was only for minorities. The high court, however, pointed out that it was not what was telecast on the news channel.
“The average man may develop hatred towards minorities saying they have been given and not to me,” the high court observed, pointing out the claim in the news report that “84 percent (of beneficiaries) come from a specific minority community”.
The complaint was filed by Shivakumar S, the Assistant Administrative Officer of the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation, alleging that Chaudhary in a programme on Aaj Tak channel spread misinformation on a government scheme.
The complainant alleged that Chaudhary had conspired to disrupt communal harmony by spreading misinformation on his channel about the Karnataka government’s “Swavalambi Sarathi Scheme”.
The scheme provides a 50 percent subsidy on bank loans obtained by religious minorities for the purchase of commercial transport vehicles up to ₹3 lakh.
Incidentally, the Opposition bloc INDIA, is boycotting Chaudhary along with 13 other news anchors.
(With PTI inputs)