While deciding a case involving the freedom of the press, the Punjab and Haryana high court has said that any attempt to curb freedom of speech and "the power of the pen" needs to be discouraged.
"The courts cannot lose sight of the fact that in a democracy, the performance of a government headed by an elected political dispensation and the administration so run by them necessarily need to be circumscribed to scathing debates at the hands of either its own political opponents or the press," remarked justice Mahesh Grover.
The observations were made as the court found no strength in the defamation complaint (Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code) filed against a Jalandhar-based vernacular daily by former Haryana minister of state for urban development, Subhash Goyal, during the then Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala's regime.
Goyal had filed the defamation against the newspaper's editor Ashwini Kumar on October 18, 2010, at Hansi after being offended by a write-up 'Chautala ke gunda raj ki yaad aayi' (Reminded of the goon rule during Chautala's term) by Kumar.
The court said such an opinion or write-up could at best be seen as a "dissent or disagreement with the prevailing system and thus in a larger interest has to be tolerated no matter how unpalatable it is."
Justice Grover said dissent and criticism often gave way to fertile breeding of an intelligent opinion, generating healthy friction between various sections of a polity and "opinions generated are extremely necessary for an intellectual debate for the growth of a democratic society apart from ensuring accountability by putting the actions of persons in power to swords of dissection."
The judgment reads: "A candid expression of an opinion often spouts another, either confrontational or platitudinous, but always enlightening. In any case, an intelligible opinion of one does not necessarily mean the conviction of the other. So there is no need to discourage it (freedom of press)."
Minister had no right to file defamation
The court ordered that after reading the article, by no stretch of imagination could it be perceived that Goyal had a legal right even to initiate the complaint. The person most affected by the article could be Chautala or his immediate family and not a person from an association or a political party headed by Chautala, the court said.
The court quashed the defamation complaint and all the court proceedings arising thereof.