The Supreme Court was told today by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the intention of the Editors Guild of India who have approached the Court seeking the quashing of the FIRs lodged against four of its members is to turn the issue into a national political issue by approaching the Apex Court instead of the Manipur High Court. Mehta was appearing for the state of Manipur.

The Bench of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha and Justice Manoj Misra clarified that the Court does not intend to quash the FIRs and asked the SG to take instructions on whether the matter can be transferred either to the Delhi High Court or some other High Court. This was after the Editors Guild of India told the Court that it is not possible to approach the High Court because of the situation existing in the State.

The Editors Guild of India had published a fact-finding report concerning the Manipur Violence. Guild slammed the internet ban in the state as being detrimental to media reportage, criticised what it termed as one-sided reporting by some media outlets and claimed there were indications that the state leadership had turned partisan during the conflict period. The Members of the Guild were booked for allegedly trying to provoke clashes in the State.

During the hearing, SG Mehta submitted "Before my learned friend begins, as your lordships have previously taken the view that protection may continue, and he may approach the High Court, I have no objection. On the last occasion, you asked me to consider and assess, and I have only stated one fact on affidavit, which is not included in your lordships' report that the High Court is now functioning."

In response, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appearing for the members of the Guild replied, "I have a serious objection. We didn't voluntarily want to go there. It was the army that requested us. This is an invitation by the army to the Editors Guild, saying, 'See what's happening there, unethical and ex parte reporting by vernacular media.' It's their invitation that led us to go there."

Chief Justice then asked, "Why would the army tell the Editors Guild to come there?" Sibal replied, "Because they wanted an objective assessment of what's happening on the ground. Now, once we have given the report, there cannot be offences against us under the Indian Penal Code. How can these offences stand?" Seeking transfer of the matter to the Delhi High Court, Sibal stated, "So, my request is to allow us to prosecute the matter in the High Court here."

Sibal further points out the difficulty in approaching the Manipur High Court and submits "Their lawyers are withdrawing. One professor whose family was burnt, his lawyer withdrew."

"The subject matter of the FIR is only that report?" further inquired the CJI and sought the SG's assistance. Reading from the affidavit, the Solicitor General submitted, "I am not addressing the merits; I am only discussing the High Court. At the outset, it is submitted that the present petition is misconceived, as the appropriate forum and efficacious remedy is the High Court. It is submitted that the High Court and the benches of the High Court are functioning regularly, and lawyers are given the option to appear through video conferencing on a daily basis. It is submitted that the writ petition cannot be filed merely to avail interim relief."

Injecting, Sibal said, "How can we be prosecuted on this basis?" SG replied, "This can be argued before the High Court," and Sibal replied, "We don't want a situation where we have to start engaging lawyers, especially when lawyers are withdrawing from the matter. A lawyer's house was vandalized."

To this, SG further remarked, "The intention appears to be to make it national."

The CJI then observed, "Solicitor, we are not on that. We are not going to quash the FIR. But the question we are deliberating is, should we ask them to go to the Manipur High Court or transfer it to the Delhi High Court? Let them file a 482 petition in High Court here and pursue their remedies."

SG replied, "I have no objection to that. Also, I don't wish this to become a national political issue, which possibly appears to be the other intention."

The CJI responded, "Mr. SG, bearing in mind that to quash the FIR, we will have to start reading everything, the report, the FIR. We are not doing that. Just take instructions." The Court also remarked, "It's a report after all. That may be a matter of their subjective opinion. This is not one of the cases where somebody was there on the ground and committed an offence. They published a report" and adjourned the matter for Friday.

Cause Title: Seema Guha And Ors. v. The State Of Manipur And Anr. [Diary No. 36780-2023]