The Supreme Court has asked the newly elected Jharkhand government to clarify whether it wants to withdraw cases against four tribal activists booked under sedition charges for allegedly writing Facebook posts supporting the Pathalgarhi movement in the state.
The top court was informed by the accused that the Hemant Soren government in the state had, in one of the first decisions of the Cabinet, announced that it would take back all criminal cases related to the movement.
Pathalgarhi is a name given to a tribal protest which seeks autonomy for village sabhas (gram sabhas). Those demanding Pathalgarhi want no laws of the land be applicable on the tribal people in the area. The Pathalgarhis reject government rights over their forests and rivers.
As part of the movement, Pathalgarhis erect a stone plaque or signboard outside the village/area, declaring the village a sovereign territory and prohibiting the entry of outsiders.
A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta asked standing counsel for Jharkhand, Tapesh Kumar Singh, to take instruction and inform it in two weeks about any decision of withdrawal of cases.
“List after two weeks. In the meanwhile, learned counsel for the state of Jharkhand is directed to get instructions as to whether the state intends to proceed with the criminal cases registered against the petitioners,” the bench said in its order uploaded recently.
At the outset, advocate Joel, appearing for four petitioners led by one J Vikash Kora informed the court that new government was sworn in the state and it announced in its first cabinet meeting that criminal cases arising out of Pathalgarhi movement will be taken back.
Advocate Tapesh Kumar Singh representing the state said that if that is the case then the petitioners should withdraw their appeal against the Jharkhand High Court order of last year refusing to quash the cases against them.
The bench, however, asked Singh to take instruction from the competent authority and apprise it in two weeks.
The Jharkhand High Court had on July 22, last year, declined to quash the sedition charges against four accused — J Vikash Kora, Dharm Kishor Kullu, Emil Walter Kandulna and Ghanshyam Biruly — who were booked for inciting supporters of Pathalgarhi movement through their Facebook posts to attack police officials after three police guards of former BJP MP Karia Munda were abducted in year 2018.
According to the prosecution, an FIR was registered against the accused under section 121 (waging war against India), 121A (conspiracy to wage war against India), 124A (sedition) of the IPC and also under provisions of of Information and Technology Act.
Twenty people were booked in the case out of which only four approached the apex court for quashing the sedition and others charges made against them.
In an affidavit filed in the top court during the last month of previous BJP government, the state had said that an investigation was underway but there was sufficient material to show that the accused had, through social media and Facebook, undertaken “anti-national”, “unconstitutional” activities against the unity and integrity of the country and incited communal and caste based unrest.
“Further the prosecution case is that the petitioners and others, through social media, were spreading false messages, deluding people and causing misunderstanding and instigating a large number of inhabitants of the districts to disturb peace by spoiling social and communal harmony,” it said.
The state said that it was clear through the messages of the accused that wrong interpretations of the Constitution were given to incite anti-national feelings, and to spread propaganda based on community and castes.
On January 22, supporters of Pathalgarhi movement, armed with lathis and axes had kidnapped seven villagers and later killed them in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand for allegedly opposing their stir.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren postponed his scheduled cabinet expansion due to the incident and had ordered setting up of Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case.