Today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out to the Supreme Court, which was hearing the petitions of a retired Army Officer and one Henminlun seeking quashing of the FIRs against them in Manipur, that there is a recent trend of a group consistently bringing every matter before the Supreme Court to create an impression that the Manipur High Court is not functioning effectively.

The Bench of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra, while protecting the Petitioners from any coercive action till the next date of hearing, expressed disapproval of the trend by saying that the Apex Court should not be turned into a "Section 482 Court".

The Court also directed the Petitioners to file an affidavit, putting on oath their claim regarding alleged non-availability of lawyer to represent them before the High Court of Manipur.

Petitioner, Col (Dr) Vijaykant Chenji, a retired Army Officer had challenged the lodging of FIR under Sections 120, 121, 123, 153-A and 200 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against him for his book “The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19: Victory in Defeat” published in January 2022. In another Writ Petition Henminlun approached the Court challenging the FIR lodged for his alleged hate speeches. Both the Petitioners were being represented by the Senior Advocate Anand Grover.

Grover told the Court that the Advocates representing his client before the High Court withdrew their appearance and that their houses were ransacked. Grover also informed the Court that one Advocate has sought refuge in a CRPF camp and remains there till today. Grover said that his client is unable to engage a lawyer in the High Court.

The Chief Justice inquired, "Mr. SG, this man is a retired colonel who published a book in January 2022." Tushar Mehta how was present in Court when the matter was called, responded, "Lordships may protect him if your Lordships so feel. I am on a different point. Let the Secretary-General of this Court speak to the Registrar General of the High Court to determine whether it is functioning regularly or not. Now, one section is bringing everything here, creating a picture that the Courts are closed (in Manipur)."

The Chief Justice asked, "Is a lawyer available to appear?" SG clarified, "Don't rely on my affidavit. Yesterday, the Advocate General was here and he mentioned that lawyers are appearing virtually and physically. There is something more than that. There is a pattern."

CJI further asked Senior Advocate Grover, "The question is whether we should protect you and send you back?". SG added, "And bear in mind that there is a pattern from a particular section that is objectionable."

Accordingly, in the Petition filed by the retired Army Officer, the Court noted in its order, "Anand Grover, Learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Petitioner, states that he would file an affidavit to the effect that it is not possible for the petitioner to engage a lawyer who would appear for him before the High Court of Manipur in a proceeding under Section 482 CrPC. No coercive step shall be taken against the petitioner till the next date of listing."

While commenting on the merits of the case of alleged hate speech in Manipur, Grover stated, "Even if I had to go to Manipur, I don't have any FIR. I cannot file the petition. They don't give the FIR, and the High Court notification says that they won't take it on file if I don't annex the FIR."

To which CJI observed, "Frankly, in this case, on merits, we are inclined to send it to the High Court under Section 482. What we can do is say right now that a copy of the FIR shall be served on you within a period of one week. We will protect you for a limited period and say that you go under Section 482 now."

Grover replied, "Here, I won't be able to hire a lawyer now because he belongs to a minority community. In Imphal, all the people of that community have been ousted. Nobody will appear for me."

Accordingly, the Court in its order observed, "It has been submitted that it would be difficult for the petitioner to find a lawyer in Imphal to appear before the High Court. It has also been submitted that the copy of the FIR has still not been made available. Issue Notice. No coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner."

The CJI, thereafter remarked, "Let us see the ground reality. We would want to be satisfied with what you are stating. We have to verify that, that's why we have called for an affidavit from your client. Thereafter, we will ask the State of Manipur to verify, and we will call for a report from the Registrar General. We have to satisfy our conscience."

SG further commented, "But now, there is a pattern to come here by one section." Agreeing CJI added, "Even we are concerned. We don't want to convert our court into a Section 482 Court."

Cause Title: Vijaykant Chenji v, The State Of Manipur [W.P.(Crl.) No. 000391 - / 2023] & Henminlun v. The State Of Manipur [W.P.(Crl.) No. 000396 - / 2023]