Should Temples Be Under Thumb Of Govt? Shouldn't Secular Govt Treat All Religious Institutions At Par? Madras HC Asks
A single-judge of the Madras High Court, while quashing FIR registered against an activist campaigning against government control of Hindu temples, observed as follows:-
"There is also one fundamental issue concerning the administration of temples. Should they continue to be under the thumb of the government? Should not the government professing to be secular treat all religious institutions on par?. Are not knowledgeable and committed activists like Shri.T.R.Ramesh justified in arguing that the government should exercise the same degree and level of control over temples as are exercised over churches and mosques?"
Justice G.R. Swaminathan made the aforesaid observations while holding that the impugned FIRs were not maintainable against the Petitioner since the elementary ingredients of the crimes of Section 500, Section 505(2) of the IPC and Section 45 of the Information Technology Act were absent.
In this case, the Petitioner was accused of Sections 500 and 505(2) of IPC as well as Section 45 of the Information Technology Act. The Executive Officer of the temple was the de-facto complainant in both the cases. According to the de-facto complainant, the Petitioner had made highly defamatory allegations against the temple management in the social media; the allegations were not only wild but also calculated to cause alarm in the minds of the devotees.
It was contended by the Petitioner that he was exposing several wrongdoings of the temple management, and that the Ex-Chairman Board of Trustees of Temple and its Ex-Executive Officer, who are arrayed as Respondents had conspired with each other to lodge the impugned FIRs. The Respondents argued that there was no iota of truth in any of the allegations made by the Petitioner and since the Petitioner was spreading mischievous rumors and canards, he had to be necessarily prosecuted.
The Petitioner appeared in person while the Additional Public Prosecutor, Mr. E Anthony Sahaya Prabhakar and Counsel, Mr. M Saravanan represented the Respondents.
The Court held that the impugned FIRs were not maintainable. According to the Court, if the Petitioner had committed the offence of defamation, registration of an FIR cannot be the response. Section 199 of Cr.PC contains an embargo. It prescribes that no court shall take cognizance of all offences punishable under Chapter XXI of the IPC except upon a complaint made by some person aggrieved by the offence. An FIR cannot be registered for the offence under Section 500 of IPC.
The Court further referred to the case of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. the State of A.P, where the Hon'ble Supreme Court had held that the common feature in Sections 153A and 505(2) being promotion of feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will "between different" religious or racial or linguistic or regional groups or castes and communities, it was necessary that at least two such groups or communities should be involved. Further, it was observed that merely inciting the feeling of one community or group without any reference to any other community or group could not attract either of the two Sections. It was asserted that the Petitioner's allegations did not involve two groups at all. The Hon'ble Supreme Court had clearly held that unless one group was pitted against the other on the aforementioned grounds, the penal provisions were not at all attracted. Here, according to the Court, there was no pitting of one group against the other on any of the grounds set out in the penal provision. Hence, the Court held that Section 505(2) of IPC was not attracted as its elementary ingredients were absent.
Moreover, it was held that the invocation of Section 45 of the Information Technology Act in the impugned FIR was also misplaced. According to the Court, Section 45 could be invoked for the purpose of recovering compensation under the circumstances set out in the provision itself and it was not a substantive offence.
The Court observed that – "Section 500 of IPC can be prosecuted only in the manner set out in Section 199 of Cr.PC. Therefore, the sixth parameter mentioned above will come into play. Since the petitioner has not pitted one group against the other on the grounds set out in the provision, the ingredients of Section 505(2) of IPC are also absent. Hence, the first and third parameters mentioned above can be pressed into service in favour of the petitioner. Section 45 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 provides only a civil remedy and is not a penal provision."
Thus, the Madras High Court held that the impugned FIRs were not maintainable and were quashed.
Interestingly, while noting that the Petitioner should maintain the highest standards of civility in discourse, the Court made the following observations:-
"Of course, I am not here to dish out sermons to the petitioner. I am no Prashant Kishor. The petitioner has not come to me for consultation. He has come seeking adjudication and I better confine my role to that."