The Supreme Court on Monday extended its order till September 15 granting interim protection to the president and three editors of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) against any coercive action in relation to the FIRs lodged by the Manipur Police for allegedly releasing a 'biased and factually inaccurate' report on the ethnic strife in the northeastern state.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra indicated that it may transfer the plea seeking quashing of FIRs and other ancillary relief to the Delhi High Court and asked Solicitor General Tushra Mehta to obtain instructions from Manipur government in this regard by September 15, the next date of listing.
SG Mehta, appearing for the Manipur government, insisted that the plea should be remitted back to the Manipur High Court for adjudication where petitioners may appear virtually through video conferencing.
“The present petition is misconceived as the appropriate forum for efficacious remedy is the High Court…The HC and its benches are functioning regularly and litigants and lawyers are given option to appear through video conferencing on daily basis,” Mehta said.
He added that the plea could be transferred to any other High Court neighbouring Manipur as it “should not be made a national or political issue.”
On the other hand, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Shyam Divan, appearing for the EGI, argued that the state government cannot initiate penal action against the three-member fact-finding team for merely publishing a report.
“My request to your lordships is to allow us to prosecute this matter in the High Court here (referring to Delhi HC). There (in Manipur HC) lawyers are withdrawing…. It is hazardous for us to get there at this point in time,” Sibal said.
The bench clarified that it will not direct quashing of the FIRs and is only deliberating whether the petitioners should be asked to the Manipur High Court or their plea be transferred to the Delhi High Court.
“They have done a report. It may be based on their subjective opinion….This is not one of the cases where somebody was there on the ground and committed some offence. They published a report,” the bench remarked while adjourning the matter for this Friday.
In its order passed on September 6, the top court issued notice and directed Manipur Police to not take any coercive steps against president of the EGI and three editors -- Seema Guha, Bharat Bhushan and Sanjay Kapoor till the next date of listing.
The Supreme Court had agreed to urgently hear the writ petition filed by the EGI members who visited the northeastern state last month to study media reportage of the ethnic violence and the circumstantial aspects and later, published a report in New Delhi claiming that the media's reports on the ethnic violence in Manipur were one-sided, and accused the state leadership of being partisan.
“It should have avoided taking sides in the ethnic conflict but it failed to do its duty as a democratic government which should have represented the entire state,” the 24-page EGI report said in its conclusions and recommendations.