The Supreme Court said on Thursday a lawyer accused of spreading false information about attacks on migrant labourers from Bihar in Tamil Nadu should be “more responsible” and asked him to tender an apology.
A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Pankaj Mithal was hearing two separate pleas filed by advocate Prashant Kumar Umrao, whose verified Twitter handle says he is a spokesperson for Uttar Pradesh BJP, including the one challenging a condition imposed on him by the Madras High Court while granting anticipatory bail in the case.
The apex court modified the condition imposed by the high court which said that Umrao shall report before the police daily at 10.30 am and 5.30 pm for a period of 15 days and, thereafter, as and when required for interrogation.
The top court directed that the petitioner shall appear before the investigating officer on April 10 and after that as and when the IO requires his presence.
“What is his standing at the bar?” the bench asked senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, who was appearing for the petitioner.
When Luthra said seven years, the bench observed, “He (petitioner) should be more responsible”.
“Before the next date, you tender an apology,” the bench said.
The apex court also passed an ad-interim order saying the anticipatory bail granted to him by the high court will be applicable in any other FIRs registered in Tamil Nadu with regard to the tweet.
Luthra said the petitioner has filed two petitions including one against the condition imposed by the high court while granting anticipatory bail and the other seeking clubbing of FIRs lodged against him at different police stations over the tweet, which he later deleted.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, said there was no other FIR in which Umrao has been named.
An FIR was lodged against Umrao under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including those for provocation with intent to cause riot, promoting enmity and hatred, provoking breach of peace and statement leading to public mischief, the police had said.
Earlier on March 7, the Delhi High Court had granted transit anticipatory bail to Umrao till March 20 to approach a Chennai court in connection with an FIR lodged by the Tamil Nadu Police for allegedly giving false information claiming attacks on migrant workers in the state. Later, he approached the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court seeking anticipatory bail.
In its March 21 order, the high court had noted that prosecution’s case is that the petitioner had uploaded false content on his Twitter page claiming 15 Bihar natives were hanged in a room in Tamil Nadu because they were speaking in Hindi and 12 of them died.
Umrao’s counsel had argued before the high court that the alleged tweet was originally exhibited in private news channels and he had simply re-tweeted it.
His counsel also said Umrao had deleted the tweet and that he does not support any discrimination on the basis of religion, race, place of birth or language
During the hearing before the apex court on Thursday, Luthra told the bench that multiple FIRs have been lodged against Umrao at different police stations of Tamil Nadu over the tweet.
“They are lodging multiple FIRs at the behest of some political workers and individuals and harassing this young person (Umrao),” he said.
Luthra said the petitioner had only re-tweeted news which was already shared by some media organisations.
Rohatgi contended it is not expected that a responsible member of the bar would make such a tweet.
“He got the anticipatory bail. His SLP (special leave petition) is against the condition of bail. What is wrong in the condition?” he said.
Rohatgi argued the petitioner has neither appeared before police nor has he filed an affidavit as directed by the high court which said he shall file an undertaking not to tweet or forward any message that promotes enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc.
The bench told Luthra that the petitioner should go and appear before the police.
Luthra said since there are multiple FIRs against Umrao, police might arrest him.
The bench, after hearing the submissions, passed the order and also issued notice to the state on his plea.