Public office has to face criticism, allow youth to express: Bombay HC

The HC observed that the young generation will find something to write on and asked how they were expected to learn right or wrong if they are not allowed to express themselves on social media platforms.

Stating that a “public office in a democracy” has to face criticism, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday said “ultimately, the people have to find a balance between the rights of the entire society and individual rights”. The court also observed that “if we do not allow the younger generation to express, how will they know that what they are expressing is right or wrong”.

The division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik was hearing a plea filed by Sunaina Holey (38), a Navi Mumbai resident who was booked by the Mumbai and Palghar police for allegedly making offensive remarks on social media against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray in July this year.

Holey sought interim protection from arrest and quashing of all FIRs and charges levelled against her.

The Mumbai and Palghar police had filed three FIRs against Holey, after several persons, including Yuva Sena member Rohan Chavan, filed police complaints against her.

She was booked under Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the IT Act.

On October 30, the court had directed Holey to appear before the police and cooperate with the investigation. “The job of police officers is difficult during these times. Sometimes they have more than 12-hour shifts. Then they have to do bandobast for morchas and processions. With all these odds, the Mumbai Police is considered as one of the best in the world after Scotland Yard,” Justice Shinde had said.

On Tuesday, advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, who represented Holey, submitted that the state cannot curtail the fundamental right to speech, and she was merely expressing her opinion when criticising the government’s policy.

“True, but we also have to ensure that the fundamental right of one person does not cause harm to another person,” the bench said.

When Chandrachud showed the court a video clip of Holey, which she had posted on Twitter, the court asked the government lawyer: “Will you act against every person who says something on Twitter and how many actions will you take?”

Additional public prosecutor J P Yagnik told the court that the police were trying to investigate the intention behind the posts after a complaint was registered. When the court indicated that prima facie, it was not inclined to agree with him, he submitted that the accused must not be let off completely, and there had to be some restraint on Holey’s part.

The bench then noted: “A public office in a democracy has to hear criticism day in and day out. Ultimately, the people have to find a balance between the rights of the entire society and individual rights. We, the judges have been asked not to watch TV, Twitter, and we do not know anything. We come to the courts with a fresh mind. We have adopted a democratic structure.”

It added, “However, the younger generation will find something to write on (social media). If we do not allow the younger generation to express, how will they know that what they are expressing is right or wrong?”

The court will continue to hear the plea on December 3.

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