-Report by Nistha Tiwari
In the case of Aman Kumar Bharadwaj v. state of Himachal Pradesh and Ors. the High Court of Himachal Pradesh quashed the criminal case filed against a journalist who was checking the system of generating e-pass during COVID-19.
The Zee Media House Journalist Abhishek Kumar Bharadwaj was booked under sections 419 (cheating by personation), 468(forgery for purpose of cheating ), and 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record ) of the Indian Penal Code. He was also booed under section 66(D) of the information and technology Act, 2000 and section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The state of Himachal Pradesh, on 25th April 2021, issued certain directions regarding the inter-state movement to Himanchal Pradesh. This was to be monitored through the process of registration of an e-pass on the e-pass web portal. On having doubts about the increased movement in the state even after strict restrictions, the petitioner being a responsible journalist decided to investigate and check the system of generating e-passes. The petitioner filled out two online registration forms for the issuance of two e-passes for entering the state of Himachal Pradesh without mentioning any valid reason. These two e – passes were registered in the names of two renowned personalities
i.e., Amitabh Bachchan and Donald Trump. He uploaded random vehicle details and his own Aadhar card details while doing so. Even after filling incorrect details, the passes were issued to him which assured him that the details are not being verified and the authorities are issuing passes in a mechanical manner.
The investigation was carried out by him with the permission of the Bureau Chief. Upon completion of the investigation, the journalist brought it to the notice of the senior authorities of the state including a cabinet minister and Director General of Police of Himachal Pradesh. However, he received no response and telecasted it on the news channel.
An FIR was registered against Aman Bharadwaj by the state as he used fake registration numbers of vehicles by mentioning his own mobile number and Aadhar card number as Identity proof for generating fake and forged documents. It was also alleged he caused the spread of false propaganda about the state allowing the entry of anyone and everyone in the state, as the state had put barriers and was checking the entry of each car.
The court observed the ingredients of the offenses under which the FIR was filed and came to the conclusion that the acts of Aman Bhardwaj do not fall within the definition of the alleged offenses.
“…Petitioner was having doubt about proper working of verification system of State at the time of registration of online request for e-pass and generation of e-passes. He was not having any other via-media to check and verify the system except submitting a misleading request. It is evident that in entire episode intention of petitioner was neither dishonest nor fraudulent as immediately after generation of epasses, which otherwise could not have been used by any person,
petitioner brought it to the notice of concerned authorities and persons…”
Aman Bharadwaj was neither fraudulent nor dishonest as after the issuance of e-passes based on the fake documents, he brought it to the concerned authorities. He never intended to use those passes for entering Himachal Pradesh. There is no sufficient material for registration of the offenses and a prima facie case cannot be made against the petitioner. In light of the above, the petition was allowed and the FIR was quashed.