New Delhi, Oct 16 (PTI)The Supreme Court Friday dismissed a plea of an “investigative journalist” seeking transfer of three criminal cases pending against him to Delhi from Dehradun on the ground of being targeted by the BJP-led Uttarakhand government, saying “credibility” of his “journalistic activity” is itself questioned by his member of the sting operation team.
A bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy said besides the three cases in which transfer has been sought by journalist Umesh Kumar Sharma on the ground of “malicious prosecution”, there were several other cases pending against him in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi and Jharkhand.
“It would be appropriate to refer to the list of cases pending against the petitioner. Out of those cases, 17 cases relate to the State of Uttarakhand, 4 cases are from the State of Uttar Pradesh, 5 cases relate to the State of West Bengal, 2 cases are from Delhi out of which one is under investigation of the CBI, and another one at Ranchi, Jharkhand,” the judge said.
The top court rejected the submission of senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the journalist, that he has been targeted saying that out of three, two cases were registered earlier when the present government was not there.
“When the nature of the three cases are examined, it is seen that two of the cases are property and Will related matters. One of this case is pending for over a decade. Therefore, this court finds it difficult to accept that the cases are on account of journalistic activities of the petitioner.
“In fact the credibility of the journalistic activity of the petitioner is itself questioned, by a member of his sting operation team, in the third case. In such circumstances, the prosecution in the concerned three cases can't prima facie be said to be on account of malicious prosecution,” it said.
It took note of the submission of Sibal in the judgement that Sharma was not pointing any fingers towards the courts in Dehradun and his apprehension is based only on the action taken by the state.
“The transfer of trials from one state to another would inevitably reflect on the credibility of the state's judiciary and but for compelling factors and clear situations of deprivation of fair justice, the transfer power should not be invoked. This case is not perceived to be one of those exceptional categories,” the judgement said.
It said that transfer power under CrPC is to be “invoked sparingly” and only when the “fair justice is in peril, a plea for transfer might be considered.” 'The court however will have to be fully satisfied that impartial trial is not possible. Equally important is to verify that the apprehension of not getting a level playing field, is based on some credible material and not just conjectures and surmises,' it said.
The first FIR, which was being sought to be transferred, was filed in 2007 related to a property dispute involving a 'Will' of 1995 of a family member of Sharma, it said.
The next FIR was registered on November 1, 2018 and pertained to forcible land grabbing attempts, on the basis of purportedly fake documents, it said.
“Perhaps only the FIR …dated 10.8.2018 .. is relatable to journalistic activity where the allegation of a core member of the investigative journalism team is that the petitioner in the guise of sting operation (by video recording activities of powerful elements), does not air them and the concerned footages are utilized for extraneous purposes,” it said. PTI SJK MNL ABA RKS RKS