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Genuine criticism in Facebook is permissible

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                       CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 141 OF 2015
               [Arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) No.6449 of 2014)
MANIK TANEJA & ANR.                                        ... Appellants
STATE OF KARNATKA & ANR.                            ...Respondents
                               J U D G M E N T
Leave granted.
      This appeal  by  Special  Leave  arises  out  of  the  judgment  dated 24.04.2014 passed by the Karnataka High Court in  Criminal  Petition  No.252 of 2014,  in and by which, the High Court, while  dismissing  the  petition, held that the petition is premature and the same is filed  even  before  the completion of the investigation.
3.          Brief facts which led to  the  filing  of  this  appeal  are  as under:-  The appellant No.1 and his wife Sakshi Jawa met  with  an  accident with an auto rickshaw on 13.06.2013 at about 10.30  in  the  morning,  while Sakshi Jawa was driving Maruti SX4 KA-03-MM-8646.  One  of  the  passengers, who was travelling by  the  auto,  namely  Mrs.  Laxmi  Ganapati,  sustained injuries and she was duly admitted in the Santosh  Hospital  for  treatment. Sakshi Jawa, the appellant No.2, is said  to  have  paid  all  the  hospital expenses of the injured and  the  matter  is  said  to  have  been  amicably settled between the injured and the appellants and no FIR was  lodged.   The
Constable,  who  was  present  at  the  time  of  incident,   directed   the appellants to meet Mr. Kasim,  Police  Inspector,  Pulakeshi  Nagar  Traffic Police Station, Bangalore City.  The appellants allege that as soon as  they entered the office of Mr. Kasim, he behaved in a rude manner.  Further,  Mr. Kasim summoned the appellant No.2 to produce her driving licence  and  other documents.  As at  that  time  no  FIR  was  lodged,  the  appellant  No.  2 questioned the Police Inspector as to why she was  being  asked  to  produce those documents.  Mr. Kasim,  in  reply,   is  alleged  to  have  threatened appellant No.2 by saying that he would drag her to court  if  she  continued
to argue and she was also thrown out  of  his  office.   On  the  orders  of Mr. Kasim, his deputy told the appellants that they are booking them on  the charge of rash and negligent driving.
        Being aggrieved with the manner with which they  were  treated,  the appellants posted comments on the Bangalore Traffic  Police  Facebook  page, accusing  Mr.  Kasim  of  his  misbehaviour  and  also  forwarded  an  email complaining about the harassment meted out to  them  at  the  hands  of  the Respondent Police Inspector.  The Respondent No.2-Police Inspector  filed  a complaint regarding the posting of  the  comment  on  the  Facebook  by  the appellants and subsequently FIR was registered against  the  appellants  for offences punishable under Sections 353 and 506 IPC on 14.06.2013.
            The appellants filed Criminal Petition No.  252  of  2014  under Section 482 Cr.P.C. before the High Court seeking to quash the FIR  and  the criminal  proceedings  initiated  against  them  on  the  ground  that   the complaint  is  an  afterthought.  The  High  court  vide  its  Order   dated 24.04.2014 dismissed the petition stating that the petition was filed  at  a premature stage.  The appellants  by  this  special  leave  are  seeking  to assail the correctness of the above Order.
           Learned Counsel for the appellants contended that  posting  of  a comment on the Facebook page of the traffic police does  not  amount  to  an offence under Sections 353 and 506 IPC and the FIR was  not  sustainable  in law.  It was submitted that Facebook page of the  Bengaluru  traffic  police itself is a public forum meant  for  citizens  to  discuss  and  post  their grievances and therefore, the  comment  of  the  appellants  posted  on  the facebook would not prima facie constitute the offence  and  the  High  Court erred in not appreciating the matter in proper perspective.
         Per Contra, learned counsel for the Respondents contended  that  by posting a comment on the Facebook of  the  traffic  police,  the  appellants obstructed the public duty of the complainant  and  his  staff  by  publicly making  baseless  allegations.  It  was  submitted  that  such  posting   of derogatory comments on  the  Facebook  page  amounts  to  'threatening'  and 'criminal intimidation' within the meaning of Section 506 IPC affecting  the complainant's reputation and integrity and the High Court  rightly  declined to quash  the FIR  and the impugned order warrants no interference.
            We  have  considered  the  rival  contentions  and  perused  the impugned order and materials on record.
9.               The legal position is well-settled that when a  prosecution at the initial stage is asked to be quashed, the test to be applied  by  the Court is as to whether the uncontroverted allegations as made, prima  facie, establish the offence.  It is also for the Court to take into  consideration any special features which appear in a particular case to  consider  whether it is expedient and in the interest of justice to permit the prosecution  to continue.  Where,  in the opinion of the Court,   the  chances  of ultimate conviction is bleak and  no  useful  purpose  is  likely  to  be  serve by allowing a criminal  prosecution  to  continue,  the  Court  may  quash  the proceeding even though it may be at a preliminary stage.
10.         In State of T.N. v.  Thirukkural  Perumal  [(1995)  2  SCC  449] considering the scope of Section 482 Cr.  P.C.  to  quash  the  FIR/criminal proceedings, this Court has held as under:-
"....The power  of  quashing  an  FIR  and  criminal  proceeding  should  be
exercised  sparingly  by  the  courts.   Indeed,  the  High  Court  has  the
extraordinary or inherent power to reach out injustice and quash  the  first
information report and criminal proceedings, keeping in view the  guidelines
laid down by this Court in various judgments (reference in  this  connection
may be made with advantage to State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal [1992 Supp  (1)
SCC 335) but the same has  to  be  done  with  circumspection.   The  normal
process of the criminal trial  cannot  be  cut  short  in  a  rather  casual
11.         So far as the issue regarding  the  registration  of  FIR  under Section 353 IPC is concerned, it  has  to  be  seen  whether  by  posting  a comment on the Facebook of the traffic police,  the  conviction  under  that Section could be maintainable.  Before considering the materials on  record, we may usefully refer to Section 353 IPC which reads as follows:-
"353.  Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from  discharge  of
his duty.- Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to  any  person  being  a
public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant, or  with
intent to prevent or deter that person from discharging  his  duty  as  such
public servant, or in consequence of anything done or attempted to  be  done
by such person in the lawful discharge of his duty as such  public  servant,
shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a  term  which
may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both."
12.       A  reading  of  the  above  provision  shows  that  the  essential ingredients of the offence  under  Section  353  IPC  are  that  the  person accused of the offence should have assaulted  the  public  servant  or  used criminal force with the intention to prevent or  deter  the  public  servant from  discharging  his  duty  as  such  public  servant.   By  perusing  the materials available on record, it appears that no  force  was  used  by  the appellants to commit such an offence. There is absolutely nothing on  record to show that  the  appellants  either  assaulted  the  respondents  or used criminal force  to  prevent  the  second  respondent  from  discharging  his official duty.  Taking the uncontroverted allegations,  in  our  view,  that the ingredients of the offence under Section 353 IPC are not made out.
13.      Section 506 IPC prescribes punishment for the offence  of criminal intimidation. "Criminal intimidation" as defined in Section 503  IPC  is  as under:-
"503. Criminal Intimidation.- Whoever threatens another with any  injury  to
his person, reputation or property, or to the person or  reputation  of  any
one in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause  alarm  to  that
person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally  bound
to do, or to omit to do any act  which that person is  legally  entitled  to
do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat, commits  criminal
Explanation.- A threat to injure the reputation of any  deceased  person  in
whom the person threatened is interested, is within this section."
14.         A reading of the definition  of  "Criminal  intimidation"  would indicate that there must be an act of  threatening  to  another  person,  of causing an injury to the person,  reputation,  or  property  of  the  person threatened, or to the person in whom the  threatened  person  is  interested and the threat must be  with  the  intent  to  cause  alarm  to  the  person threatened or it must be to do any act which he is not legally bound  to  do or omit to do an act which he is legally entitled to do.
15.     In the instant case, the allegation  is  that  the  appellants  have abused  the  complainant  and  obstructed   the   second   respondent   from discharging his public duties  and  spoiled  the  integrity  of  the  second respondent.  It is the intention of the accused that has  to  be  considered in deciding as to whether what he has stated comes  within  the  meaning  of "Criminal intimidation".  The threat must be with intention to  cause  alarm to the complainant to cause that person to do or omit to do any work.   Mere expression of any words without any intention to cause alarm  would  not  be
sufficient to bring in the application of this section.   But  material  has to be placed on record to show that the intention is to cause alarm  to  the complainant.  From the facts and circumstances of the case, it appears  that there was no intention on the part of the appellants to cause alarm  in  the minds of the second respondent  causing  obstruction  in  discharge  of  his duty.  As far as the comments posted  on  the  Facebook  are  concerned,  it appears that it is a public forum meant for helping the public and  the  act of appellants posting a comment on the Facebook may not attract  ingredients
of criminal intimidation in Section 503 IPC.
16.         Of course, in exercise of its  jurisdiction  under  Section  482 Cr.P.C., the court should  be  extremely  cautious  to  interfere  with  the investigation or  trial  of  a  criminal  case  and  should  not  stall  the investigation, save except when it is convinced beyond any manner  of  doubt that the FIR does not disclose commission of offence  and  that  continuance of the criminal prosecution would amount to abuse of process of  the  court.  As noted earlier, the page created by the traffic police  on  the  Facebook was a  forum  for  the  public  to  put  forth  their  grievances.   In  our
considered view, the appellants might have posted the comment  online  under the bona fide  belief  that  it  was  within  the  permissible  limits.   As discussed earlier, even going by the uncontroverted allegations in the  FIR, in our view, none of the ingredients of the alleged offences are  satisfied.  We are of the view that in the facts and  circumstances  of  the  case,  it would be unjust to allow the process of the court to  be  continued  against the appellants and consequently the order of the High Court is liable to  be set aside.
17.         In the result, the impugned order of the High Court in  Criminal Petition No.252 of 2014 dated 24.4.2014 is set  aside  and  this  appeal  is allowed and the FIR in Crime No.174/2013 registered against  the  appellants is quashed.
                                                           (V. Gopala Gowda)
New Delhi,
  January  20, 2015.