Blow for CM Kejriwal: Supreme Court stays Delhi govt's defamation circular against media

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the 6 May circular of a Delhi government which would have initiated defamation proceedings against media for publishing or broadcasting news that damage the reputation of the Chief Minister, the council of ministers and the government, reports said.

"Issue notice (to Kejriwal). However, as an interim measure we direct stay of the circular dated May 6, 2015 till further order of this court. Accordingly, it is stayed," said a bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant.

Asking Kejriwal to explain why the directorate of information has issued "such circular", the court sought a reply within six weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on July 8.

 Blow for CM Kejriwal: Supreme Court stays Delhi govts defamation circular against media

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. AFP

The court's order came on an application filed by senior advocate Amit Sibal seeking vacation of the stay granted by the apex court on the proceedings before a trial court in a defamation case.

Sibal, who had filed a criminal defamation complaint against Kejriwal and others in the Patiala House court here, said that while the chief minister on one hand seeks setting aside of penal laws on defamation, on the other hand he has issued such a circular.

"It is noteworthy that the petitioner (Kejriwal) in his affidavit...declares that he is working as chief minister of Delhi. However, the aforesaid circular directly contradicts and mitigates against the stand taken by him in the present petition," the plea said, adding that the stay on the trial court proceedings against Kejriwal be vacated.

The circular, issued by state information and publicity department, says that if any officer associated with the Delhi government feels that a published or aired item has caused damage to his or the government's reputation, he should file a complaint with the principal secretary (home).

Earlier, the Supreme Court had stayed proceedings in trial courts in a few criminal defamation cases against Kejriwal while deciding to hear his plea challenging "constitutional validity" of the penal provisions relating to defamation.

Advocate Amit Sibal told the Supreme Court that the Chief Minister cannot be both for and against defamation. "On one hand Arvind Kejriwal challenges validity of defamation law and on the other hand he issues a circular against the media."

Delhi government sources said, "Supreme Court order is final. We will reply in the next hearing."

Debobrat Ghose in this Firstpost article had noted, that Kejriwal challenging the validity of Section 499 (Defamation) of IPC is unbecoming of a leader of Kejriwal's stature as "it is gross misuse of law."

Speaking to Firstpost, Mehmood Pracha, a senior advocate at Legal Axis Attorneys & Solicitors’ firm, had said, "Arvind Kejriwal himself has challenged the validity of Sec 499 of the IPC by making a petition before the Supreme Court through an affidavit. Using the same law against the media amounts to gross misuse of the law and it goes against his belief. He himself raised voice against this law. It’s the duty of the Press to inform the public about the truth in the society and political sphere. The Press has been functioning in public interest and simultaneously it’s also well aware about the Defamation Law."

Political parties of all hue and colour had united against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal when the Delhi government under the AAP chief had issued a circular asking all its officials to lodge a complaint with the principal secretary (home) if they come across any news item which damage the reputation of the chief minister or the government, so that further action can be taken.

Stating that he doesn't care about media, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday last had said that if election is held in the national capital today, Aam Aadmi Party would poll 72 percent votes.

Attacking the media, the Delhi Chief Minister said, "Media keeps showing us in negative light but don't worry about that as people of Delhi is happy with us. Despite media's attempts, people gave us 67 seats."

"As far as starting a media house is concerned, we don't want to do that. There are good people in media too, who are not happy. If some senior people come together and want to start a news channel or news paper, the government will definitely help them. We also want a honest media house which only shows news," he said.

The Delhi CM's full blown campaign against the media has quickly become fodder for Opposition outrage. The AAP chief's diktat in an attempt to reign in the media from publishing or broadcasting any news item critical of the Delhi government resulted in quick reactions from the BJP and the Congress among others.

Condemning the circular issued by the Delhi government, BJP's Delhi unit chief Satish Upadhyay said that the law of defamation is not a new one but it should not be used against the fourth pillar of democracy.

"By issuing this circular they are trying to strangle democracy. It hints that something is fishy," Upadhyay had told ANI.

"The circular implies that there is an unannounced emergency," the Delhi BJP chief had said.

The Congress was also not far behind to lap up the opportunity to pounce on Kejriwal.

"It seems that Kejriwal is frightened of media now, it’s unfortunate that such circular has been brought out against media," Congress leader Ajay Maken was quoted as saying by ANI.

With agency inputs

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Updated Date: May 15, 2015 07:16:13 IST