SC protects ex-Army officer, professor against coercive action in two FIRs lodged against them in Manipur

The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted protection from any coercive action to a retired colonel against whom an FIR was lodged by the Manipur Police allegedly on the basis of the contents of his book published in January 2022.

The top court also protected a professor against possible coercive action in connection with another FIR lodged on the basis of his alleged speech made in public.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra took note of the submissions that no lawyers were willing to take up their cases and appear in the Manipur High Court.

“Issue notice. We are going to ask you to file an affidavit that there is no lawyer who is willing to appear for you in the High Court of Manipur…no coercive steps shall be taken against petitioner till next date of hearing,” the bench said.

It asked Vijaykant Chenji, former army officer, and professor Henminlun, who have filed separate pleas seeking protection and the quashing of the FIRs lodged against them in Manipur, to file affidavits to the effect that lawyers were unwilling to appear for them in the Manipur High Court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Manipur government, said there was “a pattern to approach the Supreme Court directly by one segment” and urged the bench not to entertain such pleas which can be dealt by the Manipur High Court.

“We have to satisfy our conscience that the lawyers are not appearing. Then, we can arrange the legal aid also. Or will seek a report from the Registrar General of the High Court…,” the bench said, adding that it did not want to deal directly with the cases seeking protection and quashing of the FIRs.

The retired Army officer challenged the lodging of the FIR against him related to his book titled “The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919”. It was released in January 2022.

Another FIR was registered against Henminlun for his alleged hate speeches.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for the petitioners, said the lawyers, appearing in one of the cases, had to withdraw because his chamber was ransacked and attacked.

“He is a retired colonel. It is again about a book. Not a word about the dispute, just military tactics,” he said.

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While granting the relief, the bench said, “This man is a retired colonel. He published his book in 2022… he should be protected. The only question is whether we should protect him and send it back (to HC)”.

The law officer said that he had no objection to the top court granting protection in the given facts and situation of the particular case but the real issue was the pattern in approaching the top court directly by one section when the state high court is functioning.

Grover said there was a pattern and only one segment was forced to come to the apex court and alleged that even the copy of FIR was not easily available to the accused.

Earlier, the top court granted protection to four members of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) in connection with two FIRs lodged against them and had sought the view of the Manipur government on whether to transfer their plea for quashing the FIRs and other relief to the Delhi High Court for adjudication.

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