'If press gagged for publishing news, India will become Nazi State': Madras HC quashes AIADMK's defamation case

If the press is gagged for publishing news, democracy in this country will be in utter peril and India will become a Nazi State, the Madras High Court observed while quashing a defamation case filed against a magazine by the AIADMK government in 2012.

Justice PN Prakash allowed two petitions filed by the management of India Today Tamil Magazine challenging the prosecution proceedings initiated against it before the Principal Sessions Court, Chennai.

Ruling that the proceedings before the lower court were an abuse of process of law, the judge said the the court will be failing in its duty if such attempts by the "mighty State" to "trample the press for no good reason" are not resisted.

File photo of the Madras High Court. Wikimedia Commons

File photo of the Madras High Court. Wikimedia Commons

The matter relates to an article published by the magazine dated 8 August, 2012, in which it was alleged that at the instance of VK Sasikala the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa removed KA Sengottaiyan as minister, following which the city public prosecutor filed a defamation case.

"For publishing news, if the press is gagged, democracy in this country will be in utter peril," the court observed, "India is a vibrant democracy and the fourth estate is indubitably an indispensable part of it. If the voice of the fourth estate is stifled in this manner, India will become a Nazi State and the hard labour of our freedom-fighters and makers of our Constitution will go down the drain."

"There may be some occasional transgressions by the press. However, in the larger interest of sustaining democracy, those aberrations deserve to be ignored," Prakash said.

In his order, the judge said, "On a reading of the aforesaid portions, this court is not able to find even an iota of material to show that there is any imputation intending to harm the reputation of Jayalalithaa, the then chief minister."

The judge refused to accept the arguments of public prosecutor A Natarajan that on reading of the entire article, the public could draw an inference that Sengottaiyan was removed from ministership only at the instance of Sasikala and this would amount to imputation.

"Nobody is invited with platters for coming into public life. Therefore, after voluntarily coming into public life, one cannot be heard to feign sensitiveness and trample the press for no good reason.

"This constitutional court will be failing in its duty if such attempts by the mighty state are not resisted," the judge said in his order last week.

Prakash said even on a reading of the entire article, "the court is not able to draw such an inference as argued by the public prosecutor. Further, it is not open to this court to strain the language employed in the article or to read between the lines, for arriving at such an inference."

"That apart, for maintaining a complaint of defamation via section 199 (2) to (4) CrPC, the imputation should be in respect of the conduct of the public servant in the discharge of his public functions," he judge added.

"The impugned paragraphs extracted from the article only refer to the gaining of influence by Sasikala in the party affairs after a brief period of hibernation and coming back into the party fold," the judge said.

Madras High Court's bold observations

This is not the first time that the Madras High Court has made controversial comments in its judgments. On Friday, the court also noted that doling out "freebies" to all sections of people have made people "lazy" and that free Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) rice given to ration card holders should be restricted only to families below the poverty line.

In August this year, The Times of India had reported that the court had warned the National Highway Authorities of India to rectify the issue of separate toll lanes for VIPs and judges as it was "embarrassing for VIPs and sitting judges to have to wait at toll plazas and display identity documents," a division bench of Justice Huluvadi G Ramesh and Justice MV Muralidharan said.

In October 2015, the court had called for a consideration of the castration of people convicted for child sex abuse in a strongly worded order. The court's remarks came in response to a plea filed by a British national accused of pedophilia for quashing of the charges against him.

In July 2015, the court had made headlines after it granted interim bail to a rape accused on the condition that he go to the mediation centre attached to the high court to settle the matter with the victim, who was a minor, under the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). However the Supreme Court severely criticised the Madras High Court for its order.

In September 2014, the court had suggested that couples should undergo medical examinations to check for impotency or sexually transmitted diseases before marriage. This was while the court was hearing a case under the Domestic Violence Act and its interim ruling on the potency test was aimed at cases where couples were seeking divorce on the grounds of impotency, particularly cases in which men deceived their brides by hiding the fact of their condition prior to marriage.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 13:50:38 IST

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