Days after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accused the media of “conspiring against the Aam Aadmi Party”, his government has issued a circular calling on all government officials — from the Chief Minister, cabinet ministers and government officials — to report matters of criminal defamation.
The circular refers to sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with defamation, and asks government officials to report such matters to the Principal Secretary (Home) who will forward the same to the Director (Prosecution) for advice on whether prosecution is applicable and file a case, if needed, before a competent court.
The circular was issued on May 6 by the Directorate of Information and Publicity and signed by Additional Director Binay Bhushan.
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The circular, incidentally, was passed days after Kejriwal himself challenged the constitutional validity of IPC sections 499 and 500 under which criminal defamation can entail a maximum two years’ imprisonment.
On May 1, the Supreme Court suspended trial court proceedings in two criminal defamation cases against Kejriwal who asked for de-criminalising defamation on the ground that the penal provisions unreasonably curtailed freedom of speech.
Kejriwal had taken the stand that defamation should remain only a civil wrong and its position in the IPC trampled the fundamental right to freedom of speech.
Yet his government’s circular, referring to section 499, states: “If by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, any person makes or publishes any defamatory imputation against the Chief Minister/Ministers of the government of NCT of Delhi or any public servant, employed in connection with the affairs of government of NCT of Delhi, in respect of his conduct in the discharge of his public functions and if the person aggrieved believes that such imputation has harmed his/her reputation, he/she will report the matter in writing to the Principal Secretary (Home) , Government of NCT Delhi.”
”Principal Secretary (Home) will examine the matter and will also seek the opinion of Director (Prosecution) as to whether prosecution under 499/500 IPC is to be launched. If as per opinion of Director (Prosecution) offence of defamation under section 499 is made out, the Principal Secretary (Home) will refer the matter to law department for examining the matter and obtain the sanction of government under section 199(4) of the Cr PC. After the sanction of the government is obtained, the Home department will forward the case to public prosecutor for making a complaint under section 199(2) of CrPC in the court of law of competent jurisdiction.”
When contacted, Director (Information) Sajjan Singh Yadav told The Indian Express, “This is nothing new. We have not enacted any new law. We have just informed government functionaries about the available remedies in defamation cases under the existing law of the land.”
When another senior official was asked about the need for such a circular, the official said, “It is an explanatory circular for the understanding of all government employees from the Chief Minister to a peon. Other states have also issued such circulars. The need for such a circular was felt for a long time and has nothing to do with any alleged attacks on the media by the Aam Aadmi Party.”
“A number of government employees, especially from the MCDs, faced harassment from small-time newspapers and channels that were threatening and blackmailing them under the pretext of reporting. The circular has been issued only to explain to them that if there are any personal attacks or irresponsible reporting against them while discharging their duty, then such legal action can be initiated,” the official said.