1. This rule was issued on the Chief Presidency Magistrate to show cause why the convictions of the petitioners who are the editor and printer and publisher of a vernacular newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika should not be set aside. The petitioners have been convicted under Section 124-A, I.P.C, in connexion with a matter which appeared in print in the issue of the Ananda Bazar Patrika, dated 2nd March 1938. The matter in question was headed 'Condition of Political Prisoners in Midnapore Jail. Petition for interview with Mr. Subhas Bose.' It began by saying that on 7th February last the political prisoners in Midnapore Jail had sent reminders to Mahatma Gandhi and to the Government of Bengal regarding their demand for release. No reply had been received to this. It went on to say that it is reported that the condition of the political prisoners in Midnapore Jail is quite alarming. A jamadar there, accompanied by a party of sepoys, threatened them that lathi would be used on them and warned them saying, what had happened at Dacca would be repeated here also.
A rumour has spread to the effect that a lathi charge was made there on the 12th or 13th.
It is reported that the political prisoners in the Midnapore Jail have to remain confined the whole day within a small, dark space. Besides that, there are maltreatment and threat of lathi charge. Having informed the Jail Superintendent about the threat of lathi charge, the political prisoners enquired whether the policy of the present Government was repressive. But no reply was received.
2. A Press Communique was issued denying the suggestion or allegations made in this composition. This Press Communique was published in full in the issue of the Ananda Bazar Patrika on 9th March following. The question for our decision is whether in view of the provisions of Section 124-A, I.P.C., the publication mentioned above brought or attempted to bring into hatred or contempt, or excited or attempted to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in British India. Prima facie, the matter complained of is publication of a false information and that falsity was admitted by the subsequent publication of the Government Communique. In order to support the conviction for sedition, the learned Deputy Legal Remembrancer has referred to the first sentence in the article which states...'that reminders had been sent to the Government of Bengal.' He argues that the object of this opening was to connect the idea of Government in the minds of the possible readers of this document, with the allegations of threat to and ill-treatment of political prisoners in the Midnapore Jail. It seems to us to be somewhat far-fetched to assign any such interpretation to the language used in the article. The specific allegations made are not against the Government at all. They are against a jamadar and against the persons whoever they may be, responsible for the accommodation assigned to the political prisoners in the Midnapore Jail. It seems to us difficult to hold that insinuations of this character published as they were, in the form of news item can fairly be construed as calculated to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law. Finally, if the language used could bear any such construction, in view of the immediate publication of the Government Communique a sentence of fine would, in our opinion, have been an amply sufficient punishment for any offence which might have been committed.
3. In the result, this rule must be made absolute. The convictions of the petitioners and sentences passed on them are set aside. They will be discharged from their bail.
4. I agree.