Punjab and Haryana High Court Upholds Press Freedom in Defamation Case

The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently made a significant decision, dismissing defamation proceedings against certain newspaper editors and journalists, including the Resident Editor of the Indian Express. In the case titled “Vipin Pubby v. State of Haryana and another,” retired Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer Param Vir Rathee initiated defamation charges.

Justice Anoop Chitkara of the High Court determined that the Gurgaon court’s summons against the journalists lacked merit. The individuals involved, including the current Indian Express Resident Editor Manraj Grewal, former Resident Editor Vipin Pubby, and others associated with Daily Ajit (Punjabi) and Ajit Samachar (Hindi), had the defamation proceedings quashed.

Justice Chitkara emphasized that the newspapers and reporters had not committed any offense by publishing a news report about Rathee. The court stressed the importance of protecting journalists’ interests, highlighting their crucial role as independent monitors of power, reporting information for the public good and safety.

The judge underscored news reporters’ duty to the citizenry, serving as vital contributors to a democracy’s functioning. Facing challenges and pressures from influential parties or government agencies, journalists require proactive safeguarding by constitutional courts.

Rathee had filed a defamation complaint in 2008, naming 18 major newspapers and objecting to a news item published in The Indian Express titled “Accused says he bribed ADGP, sought police protection.” The news reported that an accused confessed to the Central Bureau of Investigation that Rathee recommended police protection after taking a bribe.

Upon careful consideration, the High Court opined that The Indian Express had engaged in investigative journalism, presenting Rathee’s version alongside other perspectives. Rathee did not contest the accuracy of his version in the news item, nor did he claim ill intentions by the journalists.

The court acknowledged the journalist’s adherence to ethical standards, displaying reasonableness and impartiality by including Rathee’s viewpoint before crafting the news report. The reporter explicitly mentioned Rathee’s denial and the police’s corroboration, demonstrating responsibility and decency in reporting.

Consequently, the court found The Indian Express, its reporter, and editors entitled to the exceptions under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) related to defamation. It emphasized that the newspaper acted within the constitutional parameters of freedom of speech and expression.

In the case of Ajit newspaper’s managing editor Barjinder Singh Hamdard, the court quashed the summons, noting that Rathee failed to satisfy fundamental requirements under Section 499 IPC. The court found no evidence that the news published in Ajit Samachar reached the public and recognized the correct reporting of statements made by individuals involved.

In conclusion, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision is a significant affirmation of journalists’ role in a democracy and the importance of safeguarding their interests. The court’s emphasis on proactive protection for journalists highlights the challenges they face in reporting the truth and reinforces the constitutional principles of freedom of speech and expression. This ruling sets a precedent for responsible journalism, balancing the right to information with the protection of individuals’ reputations.

Bombay HC Seeks Legal Input in Rahul Gandhi Defamation Case

The Bombay High Court has sought the assistance of Maharashtra’s Advocate General, Birendra Saraf, in a defamation case involving Rahul Gandhi, a prominent Congress leader and Member of Parliament. The case originates from a defamation complaint filed against Gandhi by Mahesh Hukumchand Shrishrimal, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which resulted in criminal proceedings being initiated against Gandhi by a Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Girgaon. The matter pertains to an alleged incident in September 2018 when Rahul Gandhi conducted a political rally in Rajasthan. During the rally, he purportedly made defamatory statements against India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Following the alleged defamatory remarks made by Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi was reportedly subjected to online trolling and negative media coverage across various news channels and social media platforms. In response, the Metropolitan Magistrate Court issued a summons to Rahul Gandhi on August 28, 2019, to appear before the court. Gandhi subsequently challenged this order in the Bombay High Court after receiving the summons in July 2021.

Rahul Gandhi, represented by advocate Kushal Mor, contended that the defamation complaint against him was frivolous, vexatious, and driven by the complainant’s ulterior political motives. Gandhi’s legal team, led by advocate Sudeep Pasbola, argued that there were legal barriers to the complaint’s validity. They cited Section 199(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which stipulates that a sessions court must take cognizance of an offense when it is alleged to have been committed by a public servant in the discharge of their public duties. Pasbola asserted that this provision constituted a legal impediment for Mahesh Shrishrimal, the complainant, preventing him from filing the defamation complaint.

Furthermore, Pasbola pointed out that according to Explanation 2 under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a political party is not considered an eligible entity to file a defamation plea. Consequently, Shrishrimal’s attempt to file the complaint in a representative capacity on behalf of a political party was legally untenable.

In light of these legal complexities and the crucial questions of law raised in the case, Justice SV Kotwal of the Bombay High Court decided to seek the assistance of Maharashtra’s Advocate General. The judge emphasized the importance of addressing the significant legal issues involved in this matter.

As a result, the case has taken a notable turn, with the involvement of the Advocate General expected to provide valuable legal insights. It remains to be seen how this assistance will impact the ongoing legal proceedings and whether Rahul Gandhi’s plea to quash the defamation case will ultimately succeed. The case underscores the intersection of legal principles and political disputes in India’s judicial landscape, with potential ramifications for defamation cases involving public figures in the future.