Criminal defamation: Smriti Irani gets HC relief

Updated: 20 December, 2018 16:41 IST | Agencies | New Delhi

"The petitioner and the second respondent have been in public life for quite long, engaged in active politics and associated with the political parties that generally have been seen to be opposed to each other

Smriti Irani and Sanjay Nirupam
Smriti Irani and Sanjay Nirupam

In a relief to Union minister Smriti Irani, the Delhi High Court Wednesday quashed the criminal defamation proceedings against her, initiated on a complaint by Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam, saying continuing the prosecution would be an abuse of process of law. It however dismissed Nirupam's plea, seeking the quashing of summons issued by a trial court against him in a criminal defamation complaint filed by Irani.

Both the complaints arose out of the same incident which occurred during a TV debate on analysing poll results in 2012. Justice R K Gauba, who gave two separate verdicts, did not mention the actual names of Irani and Nirupam in the judgment and cause list. While Irani was referred as 'PQR' in the judgment, Nirupam was addressed as 'XYZ'. "The petitioner and the second respondent have been in public life for quite long, engaged in active politics and associated with the political parties that generally have been seen to be opposed to each other.

In their interest, their names have been withheld from mention, including in the cause-title," the judge said in the opening paragraph of both the judgements. In her plea, Irani had sought quashing of the summons issued to her by a trial court on June 6, 2014. She had also sought quashing of the complaint filed by Nirupam.

Nirupam had challenged a magisterial court's March 11, 2013 order summoning him in Irani's defamation complaint against him. He had also sought quashing of the January 1, 2013 complaint filed by Irani. The high court said it was clear that the criminal complaint leading to the summoning order against Irani was instituted by Nirupam in the counter-blast to the complaint of the BJP leader, there being no explanation offered for the delay. "The continuance of such criminal prosecution on the basis of available material would be an abuse of the process of law," it said.

It said the drift of the discussion which led to the verbal heated exchange does show that Irani was trying to block the criticism levelled by Nirupam against the performance of the political party to which she belonged, and in that process she questioned his credentials by referring to the history of he having switched loyalties.

"The complainant (Nirupam) took this as an affront and after mildly challenging her claim to be a political analyst shifted to comments which were designed to cause personal hurt bringing up her stint in the television programmes, challenging her values ('sanskar') and eventually questioning her 'character' with innuendoes concerning her matrimony," it said. The court added it was in this context that Irani retorted by stating that this was frivolous conduct similar to the one reflected by gunda elements.

"She at no stage called him a 'rapist' or a 'molester' or an 'eve teaser', neither directly nor indirectly. Her responses cannot be construed but as a caution to him to remain within the bounds of decency and civility," Justice Gauba said while allowing Irani's plea to quash the defamation complaint against her.

Regarding Nirupam's plea challenging the trial court's order summoning him for the offence of defamation and uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman, the high court said the magistrate had the power to take cognisance of all the offences shown to have been committed by the evidence. "...the metropolitan magistrate was not bound by the prayer clause of the complaint. He had the power and jurisdiction to take cognisance of all such offences as are shown to have been committed by the evidence which was presented in the pre-summoning inquiry.

In view of the nature of the material adduced, the summoning order additionally with reference to such offence cannot be questioned," it said. The high court also observed that as both the parties were participating in the TV debate from their respective homes and it was assumed that they were aware that the programme was going 'live' to the audience, the need for restraint in choice of words or expressions was expected to be borne in mind.

The high court had earlier advised both the leaders to arrive at a compromise with regard to the defamation cases they have filed against each other. Nirupam, a former Congress MP, had filed the complaint against Irani, alleging that on December 20, 2012, when the Gujarat Assembly poll results were announced, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader had made "defamatory and scurrilous comments" against him during a television debate "by making direct aspersions on the character of the complainant (Nirupam)".

He had said he had sent a legal notice to Irani through his counsel, asking her to tender an "unconditional public apology" for allegedly making defamatory comments, but she did not reply to it. Earlier, Irani had filed a complaint against Nirupam for allegedly defaming her during the same debate on a private television news channel and the court had framed charges against the Congress leader for using derogatory and indecent language against the Union Textiles minister.

On Irani's complaint, the court had put Nirupam on trial under Sections 500 -- defamation and 509 -- uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman -- of the Indian Penal Code. Irani had alleged in her complaint that Nirupam had questioned her credentials to analyse poll results given her background as a television actress.

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First Published: 20 December, 2018 08:00 IST

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