Single-bench judge Justice Hemant Chandangoudar asked the state police to not take any coercive action against the journalist.
The High Court of Karnataka on Friday, 15 September, ordered the state police not to initiate any coercive action against Aaj Tak television channel’s anchor and consulting editor Sudhir Chaudhary for allegedly airing content that promoted enmity between different groups.
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.
Chaudhary, the prime accused, and Aaj Tak had approached the court with two separate petitions seeking a directive to quash the First Information Report (FIR) filed at the Seshadripuram police station in Bengaluru.
The FIR was filed based on a complaint by Shivakumar S, an assistant administrative officer of the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation (KMDC), who accused the anchor and TV channel of offences under Sections 153-A and 505 (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) of the Indian Penal Code.
A single-judge bench of Justice Hemant Chandangoudar heard the matter and passed a common order in the case pertaining to the alleged communal coverage of the state’s “Svalambi Sarathi Scheme”, which provided subsidies to religious minorities for purchasing commercial vehicles.
“Justice Hemant Chandangoudar added there is no need for custodial interrogation and directed the Karnataka police to not take any coercive steps against Chaudhary till final disposal of the matter on Wednesday next week,” Live Law reported.
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”.
“Till Tuesday (19 September) don’t take any precipitative action. I am going to hear the matter. This matter is to be disposed of. I cannot keep it pending. I need time to hear the matter till Tuesday,” the court said while adjourning the hearing.
Senior counsel Uday 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 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)