Relief for Ambikesh Mahapatra in lampoon case
Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra has been discharged by a court in the 11-year-old case that was lodged after he forwarded an Internet joke lampooning chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
In one of the most important cases dealing with democratic traditions that empower the governed to use satire as a tool to question those governing them, the teacher had to make at least 72 rounds of the courts in the past 10 years and get his passport renewed every year because of the pending criminal case against him.
A lower court is scheduled to hear the case on February 17. Unless there is another challenge by the complainant, the court is expected to formally “acquit” him of the charges.
How will his life change if closure is pronounced next month? “I will not have to renew my passport every year,” Mahapatra told The Telegraph on Friday.
Mahapatra had appealed for a review in the Alipore Judges Court. All charges against him had been dropped earlier but an effort was launched subsequently to get two of them restored. The court discharged him from the case on Wednesday.
Mahapatra was arrested in April 2012 for forwarding the Internet joke, based on Satyajit Ray’s movie, Sonar Kella. He was charged under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act by the state government, along with Sections 500, 509 and 114 of the Indian Penal Code.
When the police submitted the chargesheet in July 2012, they dropped the three IPC sections and retained only Section 66A of the IT Act. In 2015, the Supreme Court issued an order scrapping all cases under Section 66A of the IT Act.
The complainant in Mahapatra’s case then moved an appeal to restore Sections 500 and 509 of the IPC. Section 500 deals with defamation that, if proved, can lead to a maximum punishment of two years in jail. Section 509 deals with insulting the modesty of a woman by word or gesture, and attracts a maximum punishment of three years in jail.
Amit Sardar, a member of the Chak Garia Chit Nayabad Trinamul Congress Anchalik Committee, had filed a written complaint with East Jadavpur police station on April 12, 2012, about the circulation of the joke by some members of the New Garia Development Cooperative Society Ltd.
Sardar later filed a “narazi” petition (protest petition) challenging the chargesheet and moved the court again, seeking to bring back the charges that had been dropped from the police chargesheet.
Around eight years after the original charge was dropped, Mah patra has now been discharged by the Alipore Judges Court. “My case is pending with the Alipore criminal court. So I moved a higher court and submitted a petition at the Alipore Judges Court, making an appeal to discharge me and drop the two IPC sections that police had originally dropped from their chargesheet. The court has upheld my appeal. Finally, I have been discharged,” Mahapatra said.
The additional sessions judge, 10th court, Alipore, passed the order on January 18, saying: “The discharge petition by the accused petitioner Ambikesh Mahapatra is allowed. He stands discharged from Case No. C 1810 of 2016 relating to Purba Jadavpur PS Case no. 50 dated 12.04.2012. The bail bonds are discharged accordingly.”
Mahapatra, whose passport expired in 2019, had been getting a temporary passport renewal every year since 2019 because of the pending criminal charges against him.
Every year, he would have to book an online appointment for the renewal of his passport, spending Rs 1,500, visit the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) at Kasba and appear before the assistant passport officer to present his case. Then he would have to book another online appointment for another round of interviews at the Regional Passport Office where Mahapatra would meet the deputy regional passport officer and submit the court NOC.
“Once I am throughthe formalities at the PSK and the Brabourne Road passport office, I have to wait for the police to check my address and submit a report,” he said.
This year, Mahapatra has already completed the formalities from his end — from visiting the PSK to presenting himself at the regional passport office — which he did on January 12.
“This year, I have completed the formalities for a one-year temporary passport. Maybe next year, I will get a permanent passport now that I have been discharged,” he added.