Shimla, July 14
The High Court has quashed the FIR registered against an electronic media journalist, who had exposed irregularities in the e-pass service that allowed visitors to enter the state during the Covid breakout.
As per the allegation, journalist Aman Kumar Bhardwaj had applied for e-passes in the names of Amitabh Bachchan and Donald Trump on the basis of his own Aadhaar card details. Surprisingly, the e-passes were generated without verification.
The petitioner broadcast the story, highlighting the manner in which e-passes were being generated without the verification of uploaded documents. Thereafter, the police lodged an FIR against him on May 7, 2021, under Sections 419, 468, and 471 of the IPC, Section 66 D of the Information Technology Act and Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act at Shimla (East) police station.
The court passed the order on Bhardwaj’s petition, seeking quashing of the FIR on the ground that he undetook the entire exercise with a bona afide intention to unearth truth and loopholes in the e-pass registration system in the larger public interest.
While quashing the FIR, Justice Vivek Singh Thakur observed, “The petitioner did not commit any act with intention to defraud, but for reality check and verifying the working of the system of online registration and generation of e-passes, regarding which the state claimed that e-passes were generated after proper verification of documents uploaded with the online requests.”
The court stated, “The petitioner filled the names of other people as applicants and uploaded his own documents, which, in case of verification, would have definitely been noticed by persons or the system by verifying the documents with the details of the Aadhar card and the identity card of the applicant. But it did not happen and the requests for e-passes were not only registered, but also e-passes were generated. The petitioner never intended to use nor used these e-passes for entering Himachal Pradesh.”
The court observed, “The petitioner was having a doubt about the proper working of the verification system at the time of registration of the online request for e-passes and the generation of e-passes. He was not having any other via-media to check and verify the system except by submitting a misleading request. It is evident that in the episode, the intention of the petitioner was neither dishonest nor fraudulent as immediately after the generation of e-passes, which otherwise could not have been used by any person, he brought it to the notice of the authorities and persons concerned.”