NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Monday asked a petitioner to bring to its notice the cases registered and people arrested for allegedly pasting posters critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against COVID-19.
The apex court said it cannot issue blanket orders to police not to register FIRs over pasting of posters criticising the Centre's vaccination policy.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and M R Shah gave petitioner Pradeep Kumar Yadav a week to bring to its notice individual cases registered against people and said that he should have done his homework instead of just relying on newspaper reports.
Yadav said cases have been lodged in NCT of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Lakshadweep and police may be directed to give the copy of FIR to him.
The bench said, "We also read newspapers. The Lakshadweep controversy was something different. The woman in question was granted anticipatory bail from Kerala High Court. Don't bring that controversy in this matter. You tell us about the cases registered in Delhi and other places". The top court refused to issue any direction to the police saying it would amount to issuing notice to them.
"You should do your homework. We are not issuing any direction to the police," the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing next week.
Yadav has filed a plea seeking to quash the FIRs registered by Delhi Police for allegedly pasting posters critical of Modi in connection with the vaccination drive against COVID-19.
He has sought direction to Delhi Police Commissioner not to register any further cases/FIRs with regard to COVID-19 posters /advertisement/ brochures which have surfaced in context to ongoing vaccination drive.
Yadav, who is also practicing advocate, has said that he is seeking indulgence of this court to intervene with the "illegal arrest of innocent general public" for their speech and expression by way of pamphlets affixed on the wall which is now spread in social media.
He said the court has held in a catena of cases that freedom of speech and expression with regard to the public cause is a fundamental right of every citizen guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
The advocate referred to top court's 2015 verdict in Shreya Singhal case in which section 66A of IT Act was quashed and the recent order in suo motu case on COVID management, in which state authorities were directed not to register any criminal case against the public seeking medical help in the social media.
"In contrast to decisions of this court the authorities are registering FIR against the innocent persons over their hate speech against the Prime Minister with regard to his official functions during the second wave of COVID-19 crisis and Government vaccine policies," the plea has said.
The petitioner claimed that at least 25 FIRs have been registered and 25 people have been arrested in connection with posters that have surfaced across the capital.
"The petitioner herein is seeking quashing of FIR/ complaint, direction to the Commissioner of Police, DGP, not to register any other case/ FIR in relation to COVID-19 posters /Advertisement/ brochures surfaced in context to vaccination and case as the citizen have questioned about the status of vacations policy", the plea said.
It said that the FIRs have been lodged under IPC Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and those under the Delhi Prevention of Defacement of Property Act and Epidemic Act.
The petition has said that a 19-year-old school dropout youth, a 30-year-old e-rickshaw driver, a 61-year-old maker of wooden frames are among the 25 people arrested by Delhi Police for allegedly pasting posters with comments critical of the Prime Minister regarding the COVID vaccination drive.
The plea has also sought directions to Centre and Delhi police commissioner for calling of records about the FIRs registered in the matter.