The Delhi High Court Friday quashed all the charges against two journalists from the internet portal, Cobra Post, in a 2006 sting that caught 11 MPs on camera accepting bribes for raising questions in parliament.
Hearing the petition of journalists Anirudh Bahal and Suhasini Raj, Justice S.N. Dhingra observed that “charging the petitioner under offence of the Prevention of Corruption Act would amount to travesty of justice”.
Justice Dhingra observed that every citizen must strive for a corruption-free society and must expose corruption whenever it comes to his or her knowledge and try to remove it at all levels, more so at higher levels of management of the state.
“I consider that sovereignty, unity and integrity of this country cannot be protected and safeguarded if the corruption is not removed from this country,” Justice Dhingra said while quashing charges against the petitioners.
“The corruption in this country has now taken deep roots. Chanakaya in his famous work ‘Arthshastra’ advised and suggested that honesty of even judges should be periodically tested by the agent provocateurs. I consider that the duties prescribed by the Constitution of India do permit citizens to act as agent provocateurs to bring out and expose and uproot corruption,” said Dhingra.
The petitioners moved the court saying that no cognizance of offence should be taken against them since they were not the offenders and the sting operation was conducted only to expose corruption and not to commit a crime.
“They rather should have been arrayed as witnesses by the prosecution, but instead they were made accused with the sole aim to kill the case itself, so that case fails without witnesses,” the petition said.
Counsel P.K. Dubey argued that the petitioners were performing their duty as citizens of this country by exposing the rampant corruption and bringing it to the notice of authorities.
“The question that arises in these petitions is whether a citizen of this country has a right to conduct such a sting operation to expose the corruption by using agent provocateurs and to bring to the knowledge of the common man corruption in the high strata of society,” said Dubey.
The state objected to their contentions, saying that in order to become witnesses the petitioners should have reported the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation rather conducting their own operation.
Hearing the submission, Justice Dhingra said: “The fate of whistle blowers is being seen by the people of this country. They are either being harassed or being killed or roped in criminal cases. I have no doubt in my mind that if the information would have been given by the petitioners to the police or the CBI, the respective MPs would have been given information by the police before hand and would have been cautioned about the entire operation.”
The court also questioned the role of the police in the entire case, and came down heavily on them for being not interested in registration of an FIR even after coming to know of the corruption.
“If the police really had been interested, they would have registered FIR on the very next day of airing of the tapes on TV channels,” said the court.
“The police seem to have acted again as ‘his master’s voice’ of the persons in power, when it registered an FIR only against the middlemen and the petitioners and one or two other persons, sparing large number of MPs whose names were figured out in the tapes,” the court observed.
“It is the duty of every citizen of India to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom. I consider that one of the noble ideals of our national struggle for freedom was to have an independent and corruption free India.”Justice Dhingra said.
In a sting operation the portal Cobra Post conducted through its reporters Bahal and Raj, 11 MPs were caught on camera allegedly accepting bribes for raising and tabling questions in parliament December 2006. The inquiry committee of both houses of parliament then recommended expulsion of the 11 MPs – 10 from the Lok Sabha and one from the Rajya sabha.
The police, on the recommendations of the parliamentary committee, which suggested an enquiry into the role of a middleman in the sting operation, had filed an FIR against Bahal, Raj and the TV channel Aaj Tak which aired the sting operation. The FIR was filed under Sections 12 and 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Section 120 B, dealing with conspiracy, of the Indian Penal Code.