New Delhi | Setting aside the penal defamation laws would lead to anarchy and no orderly society can have a situation where everybody can say anything against anybody, the Centre today told the Supreme Court, pitching for its retention in the statute book.
Does the 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 the anarchy, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the court.
Arguing against a batch of petitions, including the one filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Rohatgi told a bench of justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant that penal laws have stood the test of time and should not be set aside. There is no great point in striking down the penal provisions…nobody can be allowed to damage the reputation of others by saying something defamatory, he said.
The Attorney General also gave several examples such as live-in relationship of any celebrity couple to drive home the point that common people have no right to make adverse comments about the private relationship of persons who happen to be even public figures.
Being in live-in relationship is not a crime and with changing time it has become a norm accepted by society, the bench said and asked the AG whether exposing a public figure’s live-in relationship would amount to defamation. The Attorney General said that public should not look into the personal life of a public figure.
Then how is public concerned and what business they have to make adverse comments about it, Rohatgi said and also referred to the club-going habit of a judge who was found dead in a bathroom. It cannot and should not be a matter of public debate, he said.
Dealing with the freedom of speech and expression, he said , It is also a case of checks and balances where reputation of persons has to be safeguarded while allowing the public to exercise the right.
Rohatgi dealt with the legal process and said initiation of defamation complaints is also a punishment for the complainant as he will have to have his evidence recorded. It is not that he will not have to go to courts. There is onus on complainant to prove the case. There is big torturous process for the complainant also. Rohatgi also said in 1950, a maligning word carried to five persons and now it reaches to 500 million through the social media.
Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had told the court that there was a need to decriminalise the penal provision for offence of defamation as there have been inevitable abuse of the colonial law which needs to be re-examined rigorously.
Toeing identical line adopted by BJP’s Subramanian Swamy and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi who have also challenged the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, the Aam Aadmi Party leader told the bench that there are several grounds to scrap them as the two provisions are violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a)(g) and 21 of the Constitution.
Swamy and Gandhi have been charged with criminal defamation under sections 499 and 500 of the IPC for their political speeches made in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra respectively, while Kejriwal is facing cases under the same provisions lodged by BJP’s Nitin Gadkari and others.
Like Swamy and Gandhi, he suggested that the penal provisions conceived in the British era are now outmoded and over protective of public servants and inconsistent with democratic discourse.
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