Delhi HC restrains AAP, its 5 leaders from levelling allegations against LG
Reacting to the court’s verdict, Saxena tweeted, “Satyameva Jayate (truth alone triumphs)”. The AAP, meanwhile, said in a statement that it respects the judgement “but under no circumstances can we be deterred from raising matters of corruption against any powerful individual”.
New Delhi The Delhi high court on Tuesday directed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and five of its leaders to take down from social media “defamatory” statements about lieutenant governor Vinai Kumar Saxena and his daughter, saying that these were made in a reckless manner without factual verification, and aimed at tarnishing a reputation built over years.
Reacting to the court’s verdict, Saxena tweeted, “Satyameva Jayate (truth alone triumphs)”. AAP, meanwhile, said in a statement that it respects the judgement “but under no circumstances can we be deterred from raising matters of corruption against any powerful individual”.
Justice Amit Bansal, while pronouncing the order of interim relief, said prima facie, the various statements, interviews, press conferences, tweets, re-tweets, hashtags made by AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, legislators Atishi, Saurabh Bharadwaj and Durgesh Pathak, and Dialogue and Development Commission vice chairperson Jasmine Shah are “per se defamatory”. Restraining the leaders from posting any defamatory or factually incorrect statements about the LG or his daughter, the judge said that in case the party and its leaders do not take down the posts within 48 hours, Twitter and Google Inc will remove the objectionable content.
The court said the allegations of financial fraud of ₹1,400 crore by Saxena while he was the Khadi and Village Industries Commission chairman were “unsubstantiated” and based on “hearsay”. The judge also said that allegations in respect of a contract of ₹80 crore being assigned to Saxena’s daughter are also “unfounded”.
It asserted that Saxena, being a “constitutional authority, cannot meet the personal attacks being made by the AAP leaders against him by taking resort to social media platforms”.
“The reputation of a person is earned after years and the same cannot be tarnished by any other individual in a casual manner. The damage caused to the reputation of an individual is immediate and far-reaching on the internet. So long as the impugned content continues to be in circulation and visible on social media, it is likely to cause continuing damage to the reputation and image of the plaintiff,” justice Bansal said in a 13-page order.
The high court also said Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution affords the right of freedom of speech and expression to all persons, but subject to restrictions under Article 19(2), which includes defamation.
“Therefore, the right to freedom of speech and expression is not an unfettered right in the garb of which defamatory statements can be made to tarnish the reputation of a person. The fundamental right to freedom of speech has to be counterbalanced with the right of the reputation of an individual, which has been held to be a basic element of the right to a life consecrated in Article 21 of the Constitution,” the judge said.
Soon after, AAP said in a statement that the party would not be deterred from raising matters of corruption against any powerful individual. “We expect that central government should set up an independent enquiry into matters which are related to corruption charges irrespective of their political affiliation. Truth must prevail in public discourse and is a valid defence before any proceeding. We will not hesitate to speak the truth at any cost and will take recourse to all available legal remedies for protection of our rights. As a public figure in high office, we expect the LG to also demand independent and fair investigation. If he has not done anything wrong, why is he running away from any investigations?” it said.
Leader of the opposition in the Delhi assembly and Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said the high court order was a big moral victory for the LG. “ AAP leaders should apologise to the LG for making baseless and defamatory allegations against him,” Bidhuri said in a tweet.
Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta said the high court order “proves” that the Arvind Kejriwal government is “synonymous with lies and rumours”.
On August 29, AAP and its members claimed that Saxena was involved in a ₹1,400 crore fraud during his tenure as KVIC chairman. They also pointed to his daughter’s involvement in designing a KVIC outlet; the LG responded that this was done pro bono. On September 5, Saxena pressed civil defamation charges against AAP and the five leaders, asking them to issue a press release “directing all members of the party and all persons associated with it, whether directly or indirectly, to cease and desist from spreading and circulating false, defamatory, malicious and unsubstantiated statements”.
Seeking damages to the tune of ₹2 crore, the LG told the court that the AAP made these allegations to divert the people’s attention from the action being taken by the law enforcement agencies against its senior leaders.
Since taking over as LG, Saxena has recommended investigations into the liquor excise policy (since scrapped; and CBI and ED are conducting an investigation into the matter), and a bus order for DTC. He and AAP leaders have also scrapped over other issues.