New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted interim protection against arrest to a retired colonel of the Indian Army who was booked by Manipur Police for authoring a book allegedly twisting the state’s history.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, ordered that no coercive step will be taken against the petitioner till the next date of listing.
“This book was published a year before…. There is not a word about communities… It is all about military tactics,” submitted senior advocate Anand Grover before the bench.
The bench asked: “Why does everyone come under (Article) 32?”
“In Manipur, houses and offices of lawyers are ransacked and two of them are now in a camp of CRPF,” Grover said.
“Your lordships may protect him if your lordship’s conscience so permits,” said Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta, who was present in the courtroom, adding that a report may be called from the Registrar General whether the Manipur High Court is functioning regularly or not.
“One section is bringing everything here (in the Supreme Court) and creating a picture that the courts (in Manipur) are closed…(In Manipur HC) lawyers are appearing physically and virtually. There is something more going on. There is a ‘pattern’ from a particular section, not this individual,” SG Mehta said.
The top court had also directed the petitioner to file averments through an affidavit stating that it is not possible or difficult for him to engage a lawyer to institute proceedings before the High Court in Imphal.
On Monday, it asked Solicitor General Tushra Mehta to obtain instructions from the Manipur government by September 15 on transferring the plea filed by the members of the Editors Guild of India seeking quashing of FIRs to the Delhi High Court.
The matter is likely to be taken up for further hearing on September 22.
The plea said that the FIR registered against Colonel Vijay Chenji (retd) is “nothing but aimed at harassing and persecuting the petitioner at a time when the State of Manipur, has been besieged by sectarian strife.”
Further, it said that to bring criminal action against the author for merely writing a book not only puts his life and liberty in peril, but puts a chilling effect on the artistic and academic freedom which is part of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Earlier on September 6, the top court had shielded two editors, Professor Jangkhomang Guite from Manipur University and Assistant Professor Thongkholal Haokip from Jawaharlal Nehru University, for a period of three weeks from any coercive action of the Manipur Police in relation to the same book.
The FIR against the author and editors was lodged based on the complaint of the Federation of Haomee, an Imphal-based civil society organisation, which claimed that no Anglo-Kuki war had taken place in Manipur and the book incorrectly depicted a Kuki rebellion from 1917 to 1919.
It demanded that the book titled “The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919: Victory in Defeat” be banned “for the ends of justice and peace in the country”.