Toolkit case: HC grants last opportunity to Centre, police to file reply on Disha Ravi's plea

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New Delhi, Mar 17 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Wednesday granted last opportunity to the Centre and Delhi Police to file reply on a plea by climate activist Disha Ravi for restraining the police from leaking to the media any probe material in relation to the FIR lodged against her in the toolkit case.

Justice Prathiba M Singh said the central government and Delhi Police shall file their counter affidavits within two weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on May 18.

'A last and final opportunity is granted to the Centre and Delhi Police to file their counter affidavits within two weeks and rejoinder by petitioner thereafter,' the court said.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and advocate Ajay Digpaul, representing the Centre, and advocate Amit Mahajan, appearing for Delhi Police, sought more time to file their replies to the petition.

Ravi was arrested by Delhi Police on February 13 for allegedly being involved in sharing on social media a 'toolkit' related to the ongoing farmers' protest against the Centre's three new agri laws, and was granted bail by a trial court here on February 23.

The high court was hearing her plea to restrain police from leaking to the media any probe material in relation to the FIR lodged against her.

The petition also sought to restrain the media from publishing the content or extract of any private chats, including those on WhatsApp, between her and third parties.

Ravi, in her plea, has said she is 'severely aggrieved and prejudiced by the media trial surrounding her arrest and the ongoing investigation, where she is being viscerally attacked by the respondent 1 (police) and several media houses'.

She has claimed that her arrest from Bengaluru on February 13 by a Cyber Cell team of Delhi Police was 'wholly unlawfully and without basis'.

She has also contended that in the present circumstances, it was 'highly likely' that the general public will perceive the news items 'as being conclusive as to the guilt of the petitioner (Ravi)'.

She has claimed that the police first 'leaked investigative material' -- like alleged WhatsApp chats -- the substance and details of which were only in the possession of the investigating agency.

The high court had on February 19 said certain media coverage of investigation into the FIR against Ravi for her alleged involvement in sharing a toolkit backing farmers' protest indicates 'sensationalism and prejudicial reporting', but declined to order removal of any such content at this stage.

The issue of removal of content which was already in public domain shall be considered at a later stage, it had said.

The high court, in its earlier order, asked media houses to ensure that no leaked investigation material is broadcast as it could affect the probe and directed Delhi Police to abide by its stand on affidavit that it has not leaked nor intends to leak any probe details to the press.

Justice Singh had said that while a journalist cannot be asked to reveal a source, he/she has to ensure that the source is 'verified and authentic' and the content being published is not 'merely speculative or conjectural'.

The high court also said that police would be entitled to hold press briefings in the matter in accordance with the law and the Ministry of Home Affairs' 2010 office memorandum with regard to media coverage, including press briefings, with regard to investigations.

The police had placed an affidavit categorically denying leaking of any information to the media. It also assured the court that it had no intention of leaking any information to the media.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had said the petition was not maintainable as no complaint was first made to it for taking action against any TV channel or media house for any alleged incorrect reporting of the case. PTI SKV SA