The Supreme Court will hear Thursday the plea of a TV anchor seeking protection from arrest over a 'doctored video' of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi while the Chhattisgarh police issued summons to the journalist after failing to trace him in the National Capital Region.
On Tuesday, Rohit Ranjan was whisked away by police from Noida in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh, virtually thwarting his arrest by a team from Congress-run Chhattisgarh that had landed at his Ghaziabad home a few hours earlier.
He was arrested and released on bail by them later the same day. On Wednesday, the Chhattisgarh team visited his home again, and the offices of Zee News in Noida.
"Ranjan is absconding and efforts are on to trace him," senior superintendent of police Prashant Agrawal told PTI in Raipur.
The Chhattisgarh team pasted a notice outside Ranjan’s home in Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram.
He and some of his colleagues have been asked to come to Raipur on July 12 to get their statements recorded in connection with the probe, a Chhattisgarh official told PTI, requesting anonymity.
The Congress also filed a complaint with the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority against Zee News and the anchor for airing Gandhi's comments in Kerala with a 'distorted and malicious interpretation,' and sought action against them.
Ranjan has earlier apologised for “mistakenly” playing Gandhi's statement on the vandalisation of his office in Kerala’s Wayanad out of context by linking it with the recent murder in Udaipur, where two men killed a tailor over an 'insult to Islam.'
Zee TV has sacked two producers, blaming them for it.
The case landed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
“List it tomorrow (Thursday),” a vacation bench of justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheswari said when the lawyers appearing for the TV anchor sought an urgent hearing in view of the registration of several FIRs against him in multiple states over the video clip.
“This man was arrested yesterday by UP police in Noida and released on bail as the offence invoked was bailable,” his counsel said, adding that the anchor made an error on the show and has apologised for it.
“Now the Chhattisgarh police want to arrest him. Please list this urgently since otherwise he will be in repeated custody,” the lawyer said.
The FIR in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur was lodged under Indian Penal Code Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class), 467 (forgery), 469 (forgery to harm reputation) and 504 (intentional insult).
Acting on the FIR, a Raipur police team led by city superintendent of police (Vidhan Sabha area) Udyan Behar had reached Ranjan's house, but was not able to arrest him, SSP Prashant Agrawal said in Chhattisgarh.
On Wednesday, the Chhattisgarh police team also went to the local SSP office to lodge a complaint related to their probe, an official said. The team has claimed that the local police have obstructed them.
The visitors also went to the Noida Sector-20 police station for any information on Ranjan’s whereabouts and to seek a copy of the FIR. They claimed that the Noida police did not help them.
The Noida FIR was registered Tuesday morning on the basis of a complaint by Zee TV itself on July 3. Initially, it did not mention the journalist among the accused, but added his name later.
In its complaint, the TV channel blamed the two sacked producers – named later in the FIR -- for "knowingly and intentionally" using Gandhi's statement out of context.
In the Supreme Court, there was some confusion after the bench agreed to list the petition for urgent hearing on Thursday.
The advocate-on-record in the case told the bench that the plea was yet to be filed in the apex court’s registry.
"We should have been told that the matter has not been filed. This is no ground. This court is going to take a very strong view. As the AOR you should have instructed your senior counsel," the bench observed.