Court summons ex-Army chief in defamation case

JULY 20: 4 serving officers also called,court links Gen to release on Lt Gen Tejinder Singh.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: June 8, 2012 9:26 pm

Exactly a week after he retired as Army Chief,General V K Singh,along with four serving top officers,was today summoned by a Delhi Court as an “accused” in a criminal defamation complaint filed by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh who had been indicted of bribery and spreading misinformation in an Army press release this March.

“In light of the aforesaid discussion (on facts and law in point) and the discussion in the order dated May 18 (holding the press release to be prima facie defamatory),all the respondents are summoned as accused in the present matter,” read the court order.

Gen (retd) Singh and others,including Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh and Lt Gen B S Thakur Director General,Military Intelligence,have been summoned on July 20 to face prosecution under the penal provisions relating to defamation and committing a criminal act with intention or knowledge. The maximum punishment prescribed under the penal provisions is a jail term of two years with or without fine.

The former army chief and other officers have the option of either appearing before the magistrate or challenging the summons before the sessions judge or the Delhi High Court.

Finding “sufficient material to proceed” against all the five in the case,Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja held that the “complicity” of the retired Army Chief was “deducible” from the fact that he alone had the knowledge of the alleged bribery offer made to him by Tejinder Singh and this accusation formed a part of the March 5-6 release.

Besides accusing Tejinder Singh of offering bribes on behalf of Tatra and Vectra Ltd,which supply trucks to BEML,the release had alleged that reports about the unauthorised surveillance of phones of defence ministry officials were also “put out” in the media by him.

“The complicity of Respondent No.1 (V K Singh) in the publication of the press release dated March 5 is prima facie deducible… without him having told Respondents 4 and 5 ( Major General S L Narshiman,Additional Director General of Public Information,and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney) or any other person about it,the defamatory information about the complainant offering a bribe would not have percolated down,” noted the court on the complaint filed through advocate Anil K Aggarwal.

Use of words “highest level in the army” in a letter dated May 4 issued by R Sunder (under secretary),MoD,following a court’s directive was also held to be prima facie incriminating against V K Singh.

The letter stated that the release was issued as per the media policy of the army after consultation at the “highest levels.” This letter was also furnished by the ministry before the Delhi High Court when it had sought answers as to who had issued the release.

At the proceedings before the High Court,the government however had abstained from handing out another letter,spelling out the role of the then Army Chief.

The Indian Express ,however,had accessed the second letter,numbered as A/810028/GEN/M/PI. It read: “The clarification by integrated Headquarter of the Ministry of Defence (Army) dated March 5,2012 was approved verbally along the chain of command through the Director General of Military Intelligence and Chief of Army Staff.”

While issuing the summons,the court also lent credence to the statement by Tejinder Singh regarding the hierarchy followed in the Army for issuance of any communication. The magistrate underlined that the documents produced by the ministry official did not contain any file noting or Rules regarding approval of the release by Gen V K Singh others.

“On account of the absence of any such office noting or copy of any Rules,the testimony of the complainant has been believed at this stage,because being a former head of Military Intelligence,the complainant has knowledge/foundation to testify/depose about practice and procedure being followed at the Army Headquarters regarding publication of communications like the press release dated March 5,” noted the court.

The Magistrate,however,said the summons were only for the alleged offence of defamation since the allegation of hatching a criminal conspiracy appeared to be “absurd and without any foundation.”

In its May 18 order,the court held the release to be prima facie “defamatory” in nature since it was “false and injurious qua the character and his reputation”. It had further noted that the records disclosed that the respondents (Army Chief and others) “have issued the press release in violation of Section 21 of the Army Act,Rule 21 of Army Rules and the Defence Technical Publicity Rules.”

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