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Thursday, Dec 08, 2022

AAP’s claims against Delhi L-G were ‘reckless’, made ‘without factual verification’: HC

Regarding the corruption charges against Vinai Kumar Saxena at the time of demonetisation, the court held that the statements made by the defendants “are completely unsubstantiated.”

Saxena had approached the Delhi High Court Thursday seeking an interim injunction restraining the AAP and its members from publishing, commenting, or issuing any information through tweets, articles and interviews or in any other manner to the public. (File)

The Delhi High Court Tuesday directed the AAP to take down the alleged defamatory posts on social media against Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena pertaining to allegations of corruption and money laundering.

The High Court held they were made in a “reckless manner, without any factual verification, in order to tarnish the reputation” of the L-G.

The court also restrained the AAP leaders from “posting any defamatory or factually incorrect tweets, re-tweets, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, comments, captions and taglines against the plaintiff and/or his daughter in any manner whatsoever, which are in the nature of the content set out in the plaint.”

It also directed them to “delete/remove all the defamatory or factually incorrect tweets, re-tweets, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, comments, captions and taglines” against the L-G and/or his daughter published on social media platforms of the “defendants no.7 and 8 respectively, as set out in documents 10 to 13 of the documents filed by the plaintiff, and any other allegations, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, posts, tweets, re-tweets, comments, captions and taglines similar thereto.”

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Saxena had approached the Delhi High Court Thursday seeking an interim injunction restraining the AAP and its members from publishing, commenting, or issuing any information through tweets, articles and interviews or in any other manner to the public with respect to allegations of corruption and money laundering made against him.

The L-G has filed a defamation suit against the party and five of its members – Atishi, Durgesh Pathak, Saurabh Bharadwaj, Jasmine Shah and Sanjay Singh. He alleged that the defendants have “launched a series of scathing and belligerent personal attacks against the LG by employing certain epithets to refer to the plaintiff including expletives such as CHOR and DALAL”.

The L-G said that the AAP alleged that he had “indulged in corruption and money laundering to the tune of Rs 1,400 crore during demonetisation, while holding the post of Chairman of Khadi and Village Industries Commission”.

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Social media platforms Twitter and YouTube are the other two defendants.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendants have “sensationalised the issue by circulating hashtags like ‘LG Saxena ko Giraftar Karo ‘LG Saxena Chor Hai’ which indicates a pre-planned conspiracy, maligning the goodwill and reputation of the plaintiff”.

The plaintiff also alleged that the party and its members have used mainstream news media to carry out a vindictive attack on him and have additionally shared tweets, and videos in the form of interviews and press conferences on social media.

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While deciding the application for interim injunction, a single judge bench of Justice Amit Bansal in his order, referred to screenshots of the tweets/re-tweets of the defendants presented by the plaintiff, wherein the defendants had tweeted that the “plaintiff has assigned a contract worth Rs 80,00,00,000/- (Rs 80 crore) to his daughter, while he was the Chairman of KVIC,” along with a photograph of the plaintiff and his daughter.

The court referred to the provision of free speech provided in Article 19 of the Constitution. It observed, “Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution affords the right of freedom of speech and expression to all persons. However, the same is 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 life consecrated in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

Regarding the corruption charges at the time of demonetisation against the Lieutenant Governor, the court held that the statements made by the defendants “are completely unsubstantiated.” The court further held that the said “statements are completely based on hearsay…Further, the subject matter of the aforesaid statement is a sum of Rs 17,00,000/-, which has been exaggerated by the defendants many times over, to a fanciful sum of Rs. 1,400,00,00,000/- (Rs 1,400 crore).”

The court further held that AAP and its office-bearers “have made unfounded allegations that an imaginary sum of Rs.80,00,00,000/- (Rs 80 crore) has been paid to the daughter of the plaintiff.” It said that there was no material on record to substantiate the said statement.

Deciding on the application for an interim injunction in favour of Saxena, the court held, “…On a prima facie view, the various statements/interviews/press conferences/tweets/re-tweets/hashtags made by the defendants are per se defamatory. The same have been made in a reckless manner, without any factual verification, in order to tarnish the reputation of the plaintiff. It cannot be gainsaid that the reputation of a person is earned after years and the same cannot be tarnished by any other individual in a casual manner”.

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The court said that 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. Balance of convenience is in favour of the plaintiff and against the defendants. Grave and irreparable harm and injury would be caused to the reputation of the plaintiff if the aforesaid defamatory content continues to exist on the internet and the social media platforms of defendants no.7 and 8 and/or if the defendants are permitted to continue making defamatory statements of this nature against the plaintiff.”

The court further directed that the interim injunction will be passed on terms set out as follows: “(i) The defendants no.1 to 6 are restrained from posting any defamatory or factually incorrect tweets, re-tweets, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, comments, captions and taglines against the plaintiff and/or his daughter in any manner whatsoever, which are in the nature of the content set out in the plaint.

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(ii) The defendants no.1 to 6 are directed to delete/remove all the defamatory or factually incorrect tweets, re-tweets, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, comments, captions, and taglines against the plaintiff and/or his daughter published on social media platforms of the defendants no.7 and 8 respectively, as set out in documents 10 to 13 of the documents filed by the plaintiff, and any other allegations, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, posts, tweets, re-tweets, comments, captions, and taglines similar thereto.”

The High Court further held that if the party and the defendant office-bearers fail to comply with the aforesaid directions within 48 hours of the judgment, the defendants 7 and 8 (Twitter and YouTube) are directed to take down the hashtags as set out in documents submitted by the plaintiff and the tweets, re-tweets, and videos published on the social media platforms of the defendants no.7 and 8 respectively as per the URLs set out in documents filed by the plaintiff as well as other allegations, hashtags, videos of press conferences/interviews, posts, tweets, re-tweets, comments, captions, and taglines similar thereto, which appear in the plaint.

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Issuing notice on the suit, the court directed the defendants to file their reply and listed the matter before the court on February 6, 2023.

First published on: 27-09-2022 at 03:00:45 pm
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