Read Order: Kailash Gahlot vs. Vijender Gupta & Others
New Delhi, March 10, 2022: Observing that both the plaintiff as well as the defendant are public figures and members of the Legislative Assembly and there is a right vested in the Opposition to question the government on its actions, as the Executive is subject to the Legislature under the Constitution, the Delhi High Court has dismissed the defamation suit against BJP MLA((first defendant) and said that he cannot be restrained from publishing or tweeting any matter in relation to the procurement of the 1000 buses and the CAMC by the plaintiff, as it cannot be held that whatever the defendant may tweet or post in future would necessarily be defamatory.
The Single Judge Asha Menon observed that unless subjecting the ‘public figures’ to closer scrutiny tantamount to harassment and invasion of private lives of the family of the public personality, negative comments against them cannot be barred & banned.
Going by the background of the case, Kailash Gahlot (plaintiff) and Vijender Gupta (first defendant) are members of the Legislative Assembly of Delhi. While the plaintiff is the Minister of Transport, Revenue, Law Justice & Legislative Affairs, Administrative Reforms and Information and Technology for the Government of National Territory of Delhi, the first defendant is the Leader of the Opposition in the House. The suit had been filed by the plaintiff being aggrieved by the various tweets that the first defendant alleged to have been made, which according to the plaintiff, were highly defamatory of him.
The whole issue has arisen on account of the placing of an order with M/s Tata Motors Ltd. and M/s JBM Auto Ltd. for supply of low floor buses and the award of the Annual Maintenance Contract to M/s JBM Auto Ltd. The grievance of the plaintiff was that the first defendant had openly accused him of corruption in the deal which had impacted the reputation of the plaintiff.
After considering the submissions, Justice Menon noted that mere reference to tweets in the body of the plaint or the application will not suffice, as urged by the counsel for the plaintiff, inasmuch as the plaintiff was required to distil his reliefs from all the facts that he pleads.
It is a prayer clause that will temper the relief that can be granted, and what has not been sought obviously, cannot be granted, and therefore, the counsel for first defendant is right that mere listing of links will not suffice to establish defamation, but the reliefs claimed are considered on the averments in the pleadings, added the Single Judge.
Justice Menon quoted the decision of the Supreme Court in R Rajagopal & Another v. State of TN & others, (1994) 6 SCC 632, wherein it was held that no such prior restraint or prohibition of publication can be imposed on a proposed publication, and the remedy for the person, who fears that he would be defamed would arise only after the publication.
Similarly, a Co-ordinate Bench of this Court in Sardar Charanjit Singh vs. Arun Purie & Others [1982 SCC OnLine Del 301] held that the court would not restrain publication on the plea that if it was published, it would result in a negative impact on the reputation of the plaintiff, and hence, what has not come into existence cannot be presumed to be defamatory, added the Single Judge.
The High Court further found that the first defendant had in fact raised starred questions in the Assembly, but did not find the answers sufficiently elucidating of the actions taken by the Government.
To now prevent the first defendant from commenting on, specifically, the purchase of the low-floor buses from M/s Tata Motors Limited & M/s JBM Auto Ltd. and the CAMC given to JBM Auto Limited, would not only amount to a gag order, but would also tie the hands of the first defendant, preventing him from effectively discharging his public duties as an MLA by raising questions legitimately, on action taken or not taken by the government, particularly when it would be obligated, at least in the Assembly, to answer the very same questions, added the Court.
The High Court also said that refrainment would amount to a restraint on the first defendant from raising issues of public importance, which would impact the public and about which the public has a right to know and be informed, as it is the elected representatives of the people who are expected to raise the concerns of the public in appropriate forum.
“Only if blatant lies and falsehoods, detrimental to public order and morality or adversely affecting the security of the country or national interests are being disseminated through these social-media platforms, can there be a restraint imposed as being reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Else, none should be prevented from expressing their opinions including suspicions or doubts on Government’s transaction of business”, added the Court.
Justice Menon observed from the tone and tenor of the tweets that the first defendant being a ‘public figure’ was relentlessly pursuing the Government in respect of the purchase of and grant of an AMC for 1000 buses, in which the Committee had also found irregularities and had recommended its cancellation.
The tweets are also contemporaneous to the convening of the Delhi Assembly and also to the appointment of a Committee by the Lieutenant Governor to make inquiry into the alleged corrupt practices, based on a complaint received by him, added the Single Judge.
Thus, the High Court refused to accept that the tweets were personally targeted against the plaintiff alone and were per se defamatory and were totally false on the face of it.