‘Fear of Court Martial Could’ve Led to Jawan’s Death’: Bombay HC
The apprehension of court martial, and not The Quint’s sting operation on the Sahayak System in the Army, might have led to the death of Indian Army jawan Roy Mathew, the Bombay High Court said on Monday, quashing a criminal case lodged against The Quint’s journalist Poonam Agarwal and war veteran Deepchand, accused of abetting it.
The judgment said, “(Lance Naik) Roy Mathew, the deceased, was also the one who interacted and gave some comments about the Sahayak system, and he must also have been subjected to interrogation by superior officers in the same manner as the complainant was summoned by the superiors the very next day when the video became viral.
“It is this apprehension of court martial which might have led to the suicide of the deceased, but by no stretch of imagination the video containing the information or the output given by Roy Mathew itself amounted to any offence, or was it any prohibited act. It was only [because of] the fear of being subjected to court martial and its deleterious consequences, the deceased has committed suicide.”
A division bench of justices Ranjit V. More and Bharati H. Dangre on 18 April quashed the case and said it would pass a detailed order later.
A few days after Agarwal published a video story exposing the misuse of the Sahayak System in the Indian Army, in 2017, Lance Naik Roy Mathew, who had spoken about the menial tasks Army jawans were made to do, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Devlali cantonment in Maharashtra.
Following this, as FIR was registered against Agarwal and Deepchand, in March 2017. The two were booked under Official Secrets Act (Sections 3 and 7), abetment to suicide and various other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
In its 40-page Judgment, the Bombay High Court quashed the FIR against the journalist and Deepchand.
The court, in its judgment, said, “The case initiated against the applicants is without any factual foundation and any further investigation would only result in sheer harassment to the applicants (Poonam Agarwal and Deepchand) without any fruitful result”.
The court has also quashed the abetment to suicide charges against the journalist and Deepchand, saying:
“The case, as set out in the complaint, is completely inadequate and insufficient to invoke the provisions of Section 306, and there is no scope or room for invoking the said provision. The allegations made in the FIR by no stretch of imagination satisfy the requirement under Section 306 of the IPC... We, therefore, find that the ingredients of Section 306 of the IPC are not made out and the proceedings initiated against the applicant in pursuance of the said FIR are totally uncalled for, as the offence under Section 306 of the IPC is not at all made out.”
The court added that the article by The Quint’s journalist in does not affect national security, which is why it does not attract Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act (spying).
“We fail to understand how the video clippings. which contains a conversation about the Sahayak system, or the ‘buddy system’, affects the security of the nation. At the most, it can be said to be a footage exposing the manner of working of the Army, which is in contrary to the suggestions of the report of the Parliamentary Committee, which had suggested to prohibit the use of Army jawans in the capacity of Sahayak and being entrusted with duties which would act as an insult to the jawans. On viewing the clippings recorded by applicant Poonam and its uploading on social media, we do not find that the clippings contain any information affecting the security of the State or the sovereignty and integrity of the country. “
On Section 7 of the Official Secrets Act (interfering with a member of the Armed Forces on duty), the court said:
“It is not the case, as disclosed in the complaint, that either of the applicants indulged themselves into such an act of obstruction or interfered with any of the member of the Armed Forces engaged on duty in the prohibited place. We do not want to enter into the wider question as to whether the said place where the recording was done would fall within the meaning of prohibited place, since the ingredients of Sections 3 and 7 itself are not made out, the said question may not detain us, concluding that the case alleged against the applicants is without any foundation.”
The court gave a clean chit to the journalist and Deepchand under the house trespass charges too, saying:
“The act of applicant Poonam cannot fall within the said ingredient, as by recording a video, she has not committed any offence, and as we have already held that the offences under the Official Secrets Act are also not attracted and mere entry into the premises without an intention to commit an offence, insult or annoyance to any person in possession of the property would not call for invocation of offence of criminal trespass.”
The court also pointed that the “microscopic examination of the complaint and the material placed before the court would only disclose a sheer absurdity in the allegation.” The court also said that that bench, “did not find even a prima facie cognizable case of being made out on its entire reading”.