The Allahabad High Court on Wednesday quashed a first information report filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police against Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of The Wire and Ismat Ara, a reporter with the news website, in connection with an article on the death of a farmer at a tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day last year, Live Law reported.

The article had cited the deceased farmer’s family members who claimed that he had died in police firing at the rally held to protest against the central government’s three agriculture laws which have now been repealed. The family members of Navreet Singh had rejected the Delhi Police’s claims that the farmer had died after his tractor overturned.

In February last year, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed a case against Varadarajan after he tweeted Ara’s article. A case under Indian Penal Code Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) was filed in the state’s Rampur district. Later, the police added Ara’s name to the first information report.

The FIR was filed on the basis of a complaint file by a person called Sanju Turaha, a resident of Rampur.

What did the Allahabad High Court say?

On Wednesday, a division bench of Justices Ashwani Kumar Mishra and Rajnish Kumar observed that the report did not cite opinions of the journalists, but statements of the farmer’s family members , Live Law reported.

The court also noted that The Wire had published a press statement released by three doctors in Rampur who conducted the autopsy of the body and denied the claims made by the family members. The farmer’s grandfather had claimed that the doctors had told him about seeing a bullet injury but did not mention it in the post-mortem report.

On Wednesday, the judges noted: “This publication was made on 30.01.2021 at 10.08 am and on the very same day, a clarification of the three doctors was issued by Rampur Police at 04.39 pm, immediately thereafter at 04:46 pm, the same was also published by the petitioners.”

The court also held that the news report did not carry any opinion that could provoke or incite citizens.

“Nothing was also brought before this court to indicate that there was any disturbance or riot which may have any bearing on public disorder on account of the publication of news/ tweet of the petitioners,” the court held, according to Live Law.

The court held that conviction under Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code requires a visual representation or words in the written or spoken form that can incite citizens to violate the sovereignty and integrity of India, Live Law reported.

“Whereas for an offence under Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code, the intent of the person making, publishing and/or circulating a report containing alarming news must be harm-based, for example, communal, language, caste, enmity, hatred, ill-will...” the court held.

Thousands of farmers had held sit-in protests at Delhi’s border points from November 2020, demanding that the Centre repeal the three laws that proposed to open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies.

The farmers feared that the policies would make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime. The government continued to claim that the three laws were pro-farmers.

The protests had largely been peaceful but violence erupted on January 26 last year when a tractor rally planned to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned chaotic.

Some protestors broke through barricades and entered Delhi, clashing with the police that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton charge. Besides the death of one protestor, several others, including 300 Delhi Police personnel were also wounded.

The three farm laws were repealed on December 1.