The Bombay high court on Monday dismissed a writ petition filed by lawmaker couple Navneet Rana and Ravi Rana, arrested under various charges in connection with the Hanuman Chalisa controversy, seeking that one of the two FIRs registered against them under section 353 of the IPC be quashed.
The court said the petitioners and all others occupying public positions must act more responsibly and show respect towards other public persons.
"As is often said, with great power comes great responsibility," a bench of Justices P B Varale and S M Modak observed, adding they found no merit in the plea filed by the Rana couple.
The bench, however, said that if the police decide to arrest the Ranas or take any other coercive action against them based on the second FIR, it must give them notice of 72 hours.
The Khar police in Mumbai registered two FIRs (First Information Reports) against Independent MP from Amravati Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana between April 23 and April 24, following their statement that they would recite 'Hanuman Chalisa' outside Maharashtra chief minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray's private residence, 'Matoshree' in Bandra on April 23.
Their announcement triggered angry protests by Shiv Sena workers who gathered outside the couple's residence in Khar area on Saturday seeking their apology.
The first FIR against the Ranas was filed at Khar police station around 5.30 pm on April 23 on the charge of promoting enmity between different religions. The police subsequently added the charge of sedition to this FIR.
On April 24, a second FIR was filed against the Ranas at around 2 am under section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code.
According to the second FIR, when the Rana couple was arrested and asked to get in the police vehicle, they argued with the police and "some dhakka-bukki (jostling)" took place.
The Rana couple, currently in judicial custody, approached the high court on Monday morning seeking the quashing of the second FIR through advocate Rizwan Merchant.
Merchant told the HC that all the offences were part of the same event and that two separate FIRs had been registered by the police out of vendetta- so that if granted bail in the first FIR, the Ranas can be arrested in the second FIR.
Special Public Prosecutor Pradip Gharat argued that both the FIRs were the result of two separate incidents -- the first was based on the declaration of the recitation (of Hanuman Chalisa), and the second one was registered when the couple resisted arrest.
The high court said it found merit in the SPP's submission.
"These are two independent, different events and not part of the same series of events. We find no reason to grant relief," the HC said.
The bench, however, said that if the police decided to arrest the Ranas or to take any other coercive action against them based on the second FIR, it must give them prior notice of 72 hours.
The bench said the Maharashtra government had been right in apprehending law and order problems following the couple's public statements on reciting the Hanuman Chalisa at 'Matoshree'.
"The FIRs show that these are two independent occurrences. The first incident, of the petitioners reaching Mumbai, saying they were going to recite on April 23 gave rise to the first FIR," the HC said.
"The second incident of resisting arrest gave rise to the second FIR under section 353. The occurrence of both events is at different times. They are independent of each other and not part of the same central event," it said.
Merchant argued that the Rana couple had been arrested on the mere apprehension that they would recite the Hanuman Chalisa.
"They (police) registered a particular offence only because PM Narendra Modi was visiting the town (on April 24) and they thought there will be a law and order situation. But this programme was cancelled. They eventually publicly decided to drop the idea," Merchant said referring to the Rana couple withdrawing their plan to recite Hanuman Chalisa on Saturday, a day ahead of the PM's visit to Mumbai.
"Also, they never said they will recite it 'at' 'Matoshree'. They said 'outside' Matoshree," Merchant argued.
The high court, however, said that cancelling the planned recitation "did not matter".
SPP Gharat argued that the Ranas were aware that PM Modi was visiting Mumbai on April 24 and that their plan would cause an "explosive situation" as the situation was already tense over the issue of loudspeakers at mosques.
He also said that the police had initially booked the Ranas only on the charge of promoting enmity. But after speaking to witnesses and recording statements, the police realised that the recitation plan was a "cold and calculated move on their (Ranas) part to disturb the state government. Hence, the charge of sedition was added to the first FIR".
The high court said the state government's fear seemed justified.
"Such a declaration of the recitation at someone's personal residence or even at a public place is certainly firstly the breach of the other person's personal liberty (sic)," the HC said.
"Secondly, the state is justified in its apprehension that such act of reciting religious verse at the CM's private house would result in disturbance to law and order," it said.
"We made similar comments just two days back," the high court said while referring to a hearing last week on Union minister Narayan Rane's "slap" remark against Uddhav Thackeray.
"But we are pained to say that our words fell on deaf ears. We realised that we cannot expect anything even from those occupying respectable posts " the judges said and dismissed the plea of the Ranas, saying that it was devoid of merits.
"The second FIR pertains to a different set of events. These aren't a sequel to the first set of events. These are two independent, different events and not part of the same series of events, we find no reason to grant relief," the bench said.
This is not the MP-MLA couple's first brush with controversy.
The Bombay high court in June last year cancelled the caste certificate issued to Navneet Kaur Rana, saying it was obtained fraudulently using fabricated documents.
In January this year, the Ranas had found themselves embroiled in another legal case, after Ravi Rana was booked for attempt to murder over an assault on the Amravati municipal commissioner.