In a case that sparked intense public fury over a bid to muzzle the freedom of the press, justice has sided with the MiD DAY journalist who was falsely framed under the Official Secrets Act in 2011 for exposing grave dereliction of duty by railway officials.
The Bombay High Court on Friday disposed the case against MiD DAY’s principal correspondent Tarakant Dwivedi alias Akela, stating that it cannot be challenged further in the higher court. A division bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and A P Bhangale disposed of Akela’s petition to have the case quashed, after an assurance from the state government that it would file a closure report.
Akela was arrested on May 17, 2011 on trumped-up charges under the OSA, for exposing the poor state of the weapons kept in a decrepit Railway Protection Force (RPF) armoury at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). He was in jail for three days until he was released on bail. The actions of the riled-up railway force had invoked strong condemnation from all quarters of the media, including the Editors’ Guild of India.
Advocate-General Darius Khambata admitted that police action in the case was ‘incorrect’ and that no case was made out against him. He added that Akela’s reportage was in fact in public interest. Akela was represented by counsel Niranjan Mundargi and law firm Mulla and Mulla.
At an earlier hearing on Wednesday, the court had asked the prosecution to clarify from the state government for what purpose the arrest had been made. It instructed the prosecution to take guidance from the advocate-general.
Reacting to the development, Akela said, “The case was seen as an attempt by the establishment to gag reporters. Now it has turned into an example of the best kind of investigative journalism. The RPF, Government Railway Police (GRP) and some politicians had all conspired against me, but they have been unsuccessful. Today’s verdict has raised my morale. I will continue to expose the wrong as I always have.”
On June 18, 2010, Akela, then working with a city tabloid, reported about the leaking roof of the RPF armoury at CST. The leakage was damaging the weapons purchased following the 26/11 terror attack. A year after the report was published, a hawker Pradeep Sonthalia registered an FIR against Akela for trespassing RPF premises.
Three constables from the CST GRP arrived at MiD DAY’s Parel office and to pick up Akela for interrogation. They were armed with a letter stating that they wanted to record his statement under section 447 of the IPC. Though Akela agreed to come by the next day and have his statement recorded, they forcibly took him to CST in a taxi.
Akela said, “At no point was I informed that I had been arrested. It was my boss, the late J Dey [MiD DAY’s investigations editor], who informed me at the police station that I had been arrested under the Official Secrets Act.” Akela was produced in the railway court the next day and was remanded in police custody for five days. On May 21, 2011, he was granted bail by the railway court, following widespread protests from various media. Later the same year, he made an application to the Bombay High Court for quashing of the case.
>> June 28, 2010: Akela’s story ‘Leaks in CST armoury puts new anti-terror arms under threat’ published on the front page of a local tabloid he was then working with
>> September ‘10: Pradeep Sonthalia approaches Railway Court to file a case under Section 447 of IPC (pertaining to trespassing)
>> Oct ‘10: Court directs GRP to probe how pictures of the armoury were clicked acting on the complaint of Sonthalia
>> Nov ‘10: GRP registers case against the photographer. Akela’s name is not mentioned in the FIR
>> March 2011: Akela’s name crops up during investigation
>> April 2011: Railway Court orders a "competent body should probe the case under the Official Secrets Act, if applicable"
>> May 17, 2011: Akela is called to the CST police station to record a statement for trespassing into the police armoury, under Sec 447 of IPC
>> Same day: Section imposed upon Akela changed after he records his statement; GRP arrest Akela under Section 3 (1) (a) of the Official Secrets Act of 1923, remand him to police custody
>> May 19, 2011: GRP Commissioner Tukaram Chavan tells Home Minister RR Patil that he had not instructed his officials to prosecute Akela under the Official Secrets Act
>> Same day: 200 mediapersons march from Marathi Patrakar Sangh to Mantralaya; meet Home Minister R R Patil
>> May 21, 2011: Akela is granted two hours leave to visit Railway Court for hearing, granted bail by 5.30 pm