By LE Desk

Shimla, June 4, 2021: The Himachal Pradesh High Court has directed the State police not to take any coercive action against a journalist, who had approached the court, seeking quashing of criminal charges against him.

Aman Bharadwaj, the petitioner, who works with the Zee Media group, had approached the High Court seeking quashing and setting aside of FIR under Section 419 (Punishment for cheating by personation), 468 (Forgery for purpose of cheating), 471 (Using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of the IPC, besides Section 66 (d) of the Information Technology Act and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act registered against him in Shimla, The Hindu reported.

On April 25, the State government issued certain directions, mentioning the inter-State movement to Himachal Pradesh was to be monitored through the process of registration on the e-pass portal. On May 5, it issued a notification imposing ‘corona curfew’ from May 7. One of the guidelines was the registration on the e-pass web portal of the government of Himachal Pradesh for any kind of inter-State movement.

The petitioner submitted that to investigate the e-pass registration process on the web portal, he conducted a ‘reality check’ and broadcast the news on May 7.

“The petitioner filled the registration form on the portal for issuances of two e-passes for entering Himachal Pradesh without assigning any valid reason. The registration so made was in the names of two renowned personalities — Amitabh Bachchan and Donald Trump.

The petitioner deliberately uploaded his own verification details i.e. adhaar card and telephone numbers. Also, he mentioned two random vehicle numbers. “To his surprise, the passes were generated. This substantiated the fact that the passes were being issued in a mechanical manner without verifying the accompanying documents,’’ said the petition.

The news on it was then broadcast on the news channel on May 7 and the same evening the FIR was registered against him at the Shimla (east) police station on a complaint filed by the Director, Information Technology (Himachal Pradesh).

“The entire process [investigation] was undertaken by the petitioner to establish the fact that the registration on the e-pass portal was being done in a mechanical manner without proper verification of the documents so uploaded by any competent authority leading to the unhindered inter-State vehicular movement at a time when the State government had virtually sealed its borders on account of an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases leading to a very high mortality rate in the State. The entire exercise of registration was done with a bona-fide intention to unearth the truth and loopholes behind the entire process of registration for the larger public interest,’’ the petition said.

It was submitted that the petitioner has been cooperating in the investigation, yet he was being harassed. He was called to the police station on three occasions and he responded. The mobile phone and WiFi box of the petitioner were confiscated by the police.

“Though the petitioner has not been named as an accused in the FIR but the details of the compliant and the disclosure statement made by the petitioner make it amply clear that the petitioner has been held liable for the generation of the passes. The registration of the FIR is nothing but an attempt to curb the freedom of press in the state of Himachal Pradesh,’’ it said.

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