Justice Ranjit plaint against Sukhbir, Majithia : Ex-commission member can’t invoke COI Act provisions: HC
An ex-member of panel constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 (COI) can’t invoke provisions of the law against a person for making defamatory statements, after the commission’s term is over, the Punjab and Haryana high court has held.
The HC bench of justice Amit Rawal dismissed a complaint by justice Ranjit Singh (retd) of Punjab and Haryana HC against Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal and senior SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia. The retired judge had accused the duo of bringing disrepute to the panel through their statements. It was the first of its kind case, at least in this region, where a complaint under the CoI Act was filed by a former judge.
“Had the legislature intended to grant such protection (to the ex-member), i.e., liberty to avail the remedy as provided under Section 10-A (under which a member can file complaint under the CoI Act), there would have been a specific provision,” the bench said, adding that ‘plain and simple reading’ of the CoI Act provisions ‘leaves no manner of doubt that the provisions of Section 10-A can only be invoked by a panel member during its tenure and not thereafter. Under Section 10-A of the CoI Act, a panel member can complain of bringing disrepute against a person, but within a period of six months of offence.
The court noted that the alleged statements were made on August 22 and August 27, 2018 and the commission’s tenure got over on August 31, 2018. Had he filed complaint before August 31, it would have been maintainable, the court said.
Justice Ranjit (retd), who looked into sacrilege cases in Punjab and subsequent firing by cops on Sikh protesters in 2015, had complained against the two leaders on January 29 this year. The former judge had alleged that the two leaders had termed the report as a “pile of waste paper” and referred to the judge as ‘injustice’ Ranjit Singh, further, claiming that Sukhbir had even accused him of acting in a ‘malicious manner’ and indulging in ‘cheating and forgery’.
Had the court entertained the complaint under the CoI Act, the HC would have acted as a trial court to decide the complaint. The former judge would have got exemption from personal appearance during the trial. If convicted, the duo could have faced jail term of up to six months or fine or both.
Now, the former judge can either approach the Supreme Court against the order or file a criminal defamation case before a district court. The case, thus, filed would be treated like any other criminal defamation case.
The HC said the period of six months cannot be ‘enlarged’ after the complainant ceased to be a member or a chairman of the commission. “If such interpretation is stretched ….. then every member of the commission at his own sweet will can bring action from the date of the alleged commission of the offence …… That would be tantamount to laying an incorrect law,” the bench said.