The Delhi High Court has paved the way for holding proceedings in a trial court in a defamation case filed by a journalist against a media house for publishing controversial tapped conversations of former lobbyist Niira Radia with politicians, corporates and scribes in connection with the alleged 2G spectrum allocation scam.
The proceedings in the trial court were adjourned sine die as the special CBI court was holding the trial of the cases arising out of the alleged 2G scam which was decided on December 21, 2017, acquitting all the accused.
The high court directed that the defamation case be listed before the magistrate concerned on February 3 and added that as the proceedings have remained stayed for over three years, the trial court is directed to expedite the matter and preferably conclude it within one year.
The tapes of the controversial conversations were in the custody of the Supreme Court during the pendency of the trial and the media house had said that without producing the original tapes, it would not be in a position to defend itself in the defamation case. Accordingly, a magistrate’s court in June 2014 had adjourned the proceedings sine die.
The journalist, whose alleged conversation with Radia was also published by the news magazine, had challenged the order of the magistrate’s court adjourning sine die the hearing in the defamation case filed by him.
Taking note of the December 21 judgement of the trial court in the 2G cases, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said since there has been a change in the circumstances which earlier prevented the media house from accessing the tapes, the magistrate’s court order adjourning sine die the defamation case filed by journalist Vir Sanghvi needed to be recalled.
“In view of the above facts and the changed circumstance that the 2G scam case has culminated in a judgement, in my view, the order adjourning the complaint case filed by Sanghvi sine die needs to be recalled. Accordingly, the impugned order of June 30, 2014 is set aside,” Justice Sachdeva said.
In terms of the orders of the Supreme Court, the original recordings were kept under lock and key of its Secretary General during pendency of the 2G case.
The media house had published the story on November 29, 2010 purportedly extracting certain tapped conversation allegedly between him and other individuals. The high court was informed by Sanghvi’s counsel that as per the apex court’s February 10, 2011 order, copies of the recordings, kept sealed under lock and key, were made available to the CBI and the Income Tax Department and could be summoned by the media house in their defence.
The high court said that if the media house, in its defence, wishes to summon, produce or to prove the recorded conversation contained in the tapes, it would be open to them to summon it from the CBI or the Income Tax authorities, which have been made available copies of the recording by the apex court’s order.
“For which purpose, the media house would be at liberty to make an application to the trial court at the appropriate stage.
“In case there is any impediment in the media house seeking production of the recordings from the CBI or the Income Tax authorities, it would be open to the media house to approach the Supreme Court for appropriate directions,” it said.
The journalist had filed the complaint case against the media house claiming that the extracted conversation was not correct and the alleged tape recordings, relied on by it and also made available on its website, were doctored and tampered.
He had contended that the imputations made in the story were false and defamatory.
The counsel for the media house had contended before the high court that as per law, truth is a defence to an allegation of defamation.
To establish that the published conversation was the correct transcript of what is contained in the tapes, it would be necessary for the media house to summon and prove before the trial court the original of the tape recordings, the counsel said.
The issue of Radia tapes had reached the apex court when two petitions were filed before it.
The conversations were recorded as part of surveillance of Radia’s phone on a complaint to the then finance minister on November 16, 2007 alleging that within a span of nine years, she had built up a business empire worth Rs 300 crore.
One was filed by former Tata Sons Ltd chairman Ratan Tata claiming that some of these conversations, being private in nature, should not be allowed to be made public.
The other petition, filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), had sought that these transcripts be made public in larger public interest.