The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that reporting a public figure’s live-in relationship would amount to violation of his privacy and defame him even though society accepted such relations these days.
Opposing a clutch of petitions seeking scrapping of the criminal law on defamation, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra that people “had no business to make adverse comments” about a public personality.
His defence of the defamation law came a day after he contended that right to privacy was not a fundamental right in the Constitution.
He took this stand on Wednesday to support the Aadhaar scheme that has been challenged for want of a law authorising the government to collect intrusive biometric details of individuals.
The court was hearing petitions filed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who wanted the criminal defamation law under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code declared unconstitutional.
The petitioners have assailed the British-era law, contending it was archaic and outdated.
Justice Misra asked Rohatgi if exposing a public personality’s live-in relationship amounted to defamation. “In the present modern time, live-in relationship has become an acceptable norm. It is not a crime,” the judge said.
Rohatgi replied in the affirmative. People should not look into the personal life of a well-known figure as it served no public interest. Doing away with the criminal provisions on defamation would bring anarchy in society, he said.
He dismissed the petitioners’ argument that the IPC sections violated the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
“Does freedom of speech and expression necessarily mean that one can say anything about anybody? Can any orderly society have this kind of behavioural norms? If yes, then you will have nothing but anarchy,” he told the bench. “It cannot and should not be a matter of public debate,” he said.
Rohatgi said the criminal defamation law was the requirement of the day as a person’s reputation was supreme.
He also referred to the media’s wider reach to defend the law.
“All the more reason why we should have this (law) in our statute books,” he said. “Technology and social media websites ensure this information becomes public within minutes.”