New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response from Congress MP Naveen Jindal and the Centre on a plea by Zee Television seeking quashing of three FIRs, including the alleged extortion case, against the group and its editors.
The apex court also issued notice to the Delhi Police and sought its response on the allegation that it lodged the FIRs and launched criminal proceedings against the Zee editors allegedly at the behest of Jindal.
The notice was also issued to Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) of which Naveen Jindal is the Chairman.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir asked them to file their response within two weeks and posted the matter after four weeks on Zee`e petition also seeking stay of the criminal proceedings against them.
The bench, also comprising justices AR Dave and Vikramajit Sen, issued notice to them on another petition filed by the Zee Group questioning the showcause notice issued to it by the Centre for telecasting a programme in which the channel revealed the identity of the male friend and eye witness of the December 16 gang-rape case.
The Centre in its notice has sought explanation from the Zee Group why its licence should not be cancelled.
Senior advocates Harish Salve and Maninder Singh, appearing for the Zee Group and its editors -- Sudhir Chaudhary and Sameer Ahulwalia, alleged that the three FIRs registered on October 2, 2012, January 4, 2013 and January 15 were as a result of "unholy conspiracy" between Jindal and the Delhi Police.
They also sought that the case be transferred from Delhi Police to some other agency.
The first FIR was in connection with the sting operation on the alleged extortion bid by Zee editors against Jindal`s company in which Chaudhary and Ahluwalia were in jail from November 27 to December 17, 2012.
The second FIR was lodged against Zee for allegedly telecasting the programme revealing the identity of the eye witness and male friend of the December 16 gang-rape case.
The third FIR was lodged against the TV channel on the complaint of JSPL alleging that the channel in its programme on coal block scam showed fabricated documents as annexure of CAG report.
Salve submitted that Delhi Police conducted "slanted investigation" at the behest of Jindal who used his political connections with the ruling party in power.
"Three successive FIRs within a span of four months were filed against the petitioner on one pretext or the other.
"In addition to this, Zee News Ltd has also received notices from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the basis of series of complaints filed by JSPL - a company managed and controlled by Jindal which further supports the contention of the petitioner that Jindal is using his influence as a member of a political party in power to gag and muzzle the media from reporting on issues of national importance," the plea said.
Salve said a complaint was also filed by JSPL before the Press Council of India which was referred to the News Broadcasting Standard Authority (NBSA) headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma.
However, he said, the chairman of NBSA took note of the fact that Jindal had the temerity to try and contact the chairman over telephone prior to the hearing, and Justice Verma even refused to accept an unconditional written apology on his behalf, tendered by the senior counsel appearing for the complainant-JSPL.
The senior advocate said the first FIR was recorded in a dishonest manner and the malice of the police was obvious from the fact that it concocted an offence which does not exist in the Indian Penal Code.
"A reading of the FIR together with the document in public domain shows that the FIR is yet another attempt to browbeat the petitioners` news channel.
Allegations of serious offences are made which would once again be used by the Delhi Police to seek custody of those involved in producing the story," the petition said.