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The Allahabad High Court in the case of Yashwant Singh v. State of UP & Ors. decided on 23 December 2020 held in explicit terms that merely expressing dissent against the affairs of a government or its functionalities is not a criminal offence.

It is noteworthy that the Right to Dissent is the most important right granted by the Constitution of India. A division bench of Justice Pankaj Naqvi and Justice Vivek Agarwal in the said landmark judgement held thus:

“Expressing dissent on law and order situation in the State, is a hallmark of a constitutional liberal democracy like ours, constitutionally protected under Article 19 of the Constitution.”

The brief facts of the case are that one Yashwant Singh tweeted that the CM of Uttar Pradesh had turned the State of Uttar Pradesh into a “Jungleraj” having no law & order in the State. He also tweeted that abductions, murders and ransom are rampant in the State. The U P Police lodged a FIR against him for his said tweets wherein he had  made critical remarks against the State Government. The said FIR were lodged against the petitioner u/s Section 66-D of the ITAct which deals with punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource and u/s 500 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with  Punishment for Defamation.

Yashwant Singh filed a writ petition in the Allahabad High Court praying for quashing the FIR lodged against him. It was argued on behalf of  the petitioner that the right to dissent is a fundamental right which has been enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution  which guarantees Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression to all citizens of our country. It was also submitted on behalf of the petitioner that mere dissent in no way amounts to committing a  crime under the Indian Penal Code and it was prayed that the said  FIR ought to be quashed as the same has been malafidely lodged to coerce the petitioner to stop expressing his dissent against the State government.

The Court was not convinced that the said act of the petitioner attracted Section 66-D IT Act and held thus :

“We after analysing the above provisions, qua allegation made in the FIR do not find even remotely a commission of offence under Section 66-D, as said provision relates to cheating by personation. It is not the case of prosecution that while committing the overt act, the petitioner either tweeted using other’s twitter handle or was there any allegation of cheating. No offence under Section 66-D I.T. Act is made out.”

With regard to the charge of Defamation, the Court was not at all convinced  that the tweet could attract the mischief of Section 500 of the IPC and held thus:

“In so far, Section 500 IPC is concerned, same is also not made out, as the alleged tweet cannot be said to fall within the mischief of defamation.”

The Court quashed the said FIR and categorically held as under:

“Expressing dissent on law and order situation in the State, is a hallmark of a constitutional liberal democracy like ours, constitutionally protected under Article 19 of the Constitution.”

It would be trite to refer to the speech of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud (sitting Judge of the Apex Court), a great propounder of personal liberty, in his famous & oft quoted speech put the matter very succinctly. He said:

“The blanket labelling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy”.

It is undisputable that it is the right of every citizen under the Constitution of India to question, to challenge, to verify, to ask for accountability from the government. These rights can never be taken away otherwise we will become an unquestioning perishing society which will not be able to develop any further. Without cherishing these valuable rights, the largest democracy of the world would be in peril.

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June 2024