P&H HC | Heavy costs imposed on petitioners as a ‘deterrent measure’ for mocking Jain monk on Twitter, even where FIR against them quashed

Punjab and Haryana High Court: The Bench of Arvind Singh Sangwan J., imposed the fine on Vishal Dadlani and Tehseen Poonawala of Rs 10 lakhs each for hurting the sentiments of the Jain Community by insulting the Jain Saint Tarun Sagar on twitter, even though the FIR was quashed against the criminal charges registered against them. 

A case under Sections 295-A, 153-A and 509 of the Penal Code, 1860 was filed by the respondent/complainant against the petitioners (Vishal Dadlani and Tehseen Poonawala) for hurting the belief, religious feelings of the Jain Community and Jain Monk Tarun Sagar. The petitioner posted the photograph of Jain Monk (Muni) Tarun Sagar, when he was addressing the Haryana State Legislative Assembly and another photo by way of Photoshop, the photograph of a lady whose face was not shown, in a sitting posture wearing only undergarments was clubbed and posted along with the photograph of Jain Muni by Petitioner 2. 

Learned counsel for the petitioners, Karuna Nandy, submitted that there was no mens rea on the part of the petitioner to commit any offence and even the petitioner has tendered his apology to the Jain Muni Tarun Sagar, which was accepted by him by way of print media. She further submitted that a rational criticism of religious tenants, pounded in restraint language does not amount to an offence either under Sections 153-A or 295-A IPC.

Learned counsel for the respondent, Khushbir K. Bhullar, submitted that there are serious allegations against the petitioners for hurting the religious feelings of the complainant and the followers of the Jain Saints. The entire Jain fraternity is defamed before the public in large by using electronic media, to spread the religious discontent and hurt their sentiments and therefore, the FIR was rightly registered. 

The Court opined that the country has witnessed large scale violent protest on incitement made by using social media platform, thereby, causing extensive damage to public property and therefore it was appropriate to impose the costs of Rs 10 lakhs each on the petitioners – Vishal Dadlani and Tehseen Poonawala, so that in future they may not mock at any head of a religious sect, just to gain publicity on social media like Twitter.  The Court ordered that the FIR registered against the parties to be quashed and gave the following instruction for the cost by parties i.e. “The petitioner – Tehseen Poonawala will deposit the costs of `5 lacs with the Tarun Kranti Manch Trust (Regd.), Defence Colony, Delhi (a Trust created by late Jain Muni Tarun Sagar) and will also deposit a costs of 5 lacs with the Poor Patient’s Fund (Prabh Aasra) in Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research at Chandigarh. The petitioner – Vishal Dadlani will deposit the costs of 5 lacs with the Shri Digamber Jain Mandir Trust, Sector 27, Chandigarh and 5 lacs with the Punjab and Haryana High Court Advocates Welfare Fund.” [Vishal Dadlani v. State of Haryana, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 446, decided on 29-04-2019]

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