By Amritananda Chakravorty
After months of protracted litigation faced by Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and prominent leader of Aam Aadmi Party (‘AAP’), pertaining to several defamation suits filed by various political rivals, including Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and Kapil Sibal, amongst others, Mr. Kejriwal has chosen to wriggle out of these several cases, by apologising to the leaders and taking back those ‘defamatory statements’. The most prominent cases has been the defamation suit filed by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for the allegations levelled by Kejriwal against Jaitley, of corruption during his stint as President of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (‘DDCA’), claiming damages to the tune of Rs. 10 Crores.
In December 2015, Jaitley filed a civil defamation case against Kejriwal and AAP leaders Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Deepak Bajpayee, claiming that they made “false and defamatory” statements in the case involving DDCA, thereby harming his reputation. During the court proceedings, Jaitley took strong objections to the word ‘crook’ used by Jethmalani, when the later was cross-examining him in the civil case. Jaitley then pressed the counsel to clarify whether he had used the word on his own or on instructions of the defendant. When Jethmalani clarified that it was on the basis of instruction from his client, Jaitley filed a new criminal suit against Kejriwal in July, 2017.
After more than two years of litigation, Arvind Kejriwal appears to have taken a tactical decision to get out of several defamation suits filed against him (almost 30 in total), and focus his energy and resources on actual political activities. It was being said that these litigations had substantially drained AAP’s resources, and taking a huge toll on their time. Clearly what seemed a strategic decision, with one year to go for the next general election in 2019, Arvind Kejriwal chose to apologise to Bikram Singh Majithia, a leader of Akali Dal in Punjab, who was alleged to be involved in drug trafficking, Nitin Gadkari, a senior BJP politician and Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader, in March, 2018. His apology to Majithia created a huge furore in AAP’s Punjab unit, which had campaigned heavily against Majithia, and left the party workers dejected, and some members resigned also. Still, pundits thought that Kejriwal would continue to fight the defamation case against Arun Jaitley, since it symbolised a huge political fight between AAP and BJP, and also would sustain the corruption charge against BJP leaders.
Alas, that was not to be. On 2nd April, 2018, in a cleverly drafted apology letter, Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Arun Jaitley that “these allegations were made by me were based on information and papers furnished to me by certain individuals who represented to have first-hand insight into the affairs of DDCA. However, I have recently discovered that the information and the imputations contained therein are unfounded and unwarranted and I was clearly misinformed into making these allegations.” Thereafter, he chose to withdraw all the allegations made by him and apologised to Mr. Jaitley and his family members ‘for any harm caused to his reputation’, owing to these allegations. He further stated that the statements made by Ram Jethmalani during the civil suit were made, without his knowledge or instructions.
Similar apology letters were issued by Raghav Chadha, Ashutosh and Deepak Bajpai, but not by Kumar Vishwas who refused to follow suit.
Consequently, on 3rd April, 2018, Kejriwal and three other AAP leaders, along with Jaitley moved a joint application in Delhi High Court to compromise the suit, in light of the former’s unconditional apology to Jaitley. The Delhi High Court accepted the joint application and decreed the suit in accordance with the settlement decree. The suit, however, will continue against Kumar Vishwas.
It is to be seen whether this apology spree, especially to Jaitley, has any significant impact on AAP’s political fortunes. Though Kejriwal has been panned on social media for backtracking on his statements against Jaitley and Majithia, others have tried to be more empathetic to AAP’s decision, considering how besieged they were under scores of litigations. But one thing is clear that Kejriwal’s credibility has taken a beating, as well as AAP’s anti-corruption brand, and it will be herculean task now for AAP to ‘reinvent’ its image and to convince the public that AAP is serious about its anti-corruption plank.
These events also make it clear that the law on defamation, especially criminal defamation, is being constantly used by political rivals against each other, especially by big political parties flush with funds to silence small regional parties, and to drain them of resources. This is a classic example where the process becomes the punishment. It is high time that the law is removed from the statute book, i.e., the offence of defamation, in order to create a level playing field for all parties.
[Arun Jaitley v Arvind Kejriwal, Interim Application No. 4313 of 2018 in Civil Suit (Original Side) No. 3457 of 2015] (IPA Service)
Weekly Round-Up of Major Decisions of the Courts in India as also Legal Policy Developments
- Notice issued on PIL by widow of Rajasthan lynching – The Supreme Court has issued notice to the Centre and the State of Rajasthan on a petition by Gulbahar Bibi, wife of Afrazul Khan who was a killed and set on fire in December, 2017. The video of the perpetrator committing and then justifying the crime surfaced on the internet. The PIL seeks the transfer of the accused from the jail in Rajasthan to West Bengal, appointment of a Public Prosecutor and compensation to the victim’s family. The Petitioner argued that the accused had abused the facilities of the jail, while uploading videos while being an under trial prisoner, and should be transferred to West Bengal. CBI sought three days to file their response. [Gulbahar Bibi v Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 30 of 2018, date of order: 02.04.2018]
- Environment Ministry’s response sought on firecracker ban – The Supreme Court sought response from the Ministry of Environment and Forests on a petition seeking a countrywide ban on crackers. The Central Pollution Control Board had filed an affidavit earlier stating that the cracker ban during the time of Diwali was a success and no major health hazards were reported in this time. The petition also asked for stoppage of manufacture of new diesel vehicles until the BS-VI standards are introduced and either ending or subsiding the duty on import of hybrid and electrical cars. [Arjun Gopal v Union of India, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 728/2015, date of order: 06.04.2018]
- Directions issued to introduce best practices in crime scene videography–The Supreme Court in a recent judgment has advocated the introduction of videography in investigation, especially for the crime scene. This comes as a response to a suggestion made by the Home Ministry pointing out that usage of video evidence during investigation can be of immense value. The Court though noted that the police across states may not be equipped to actually apply the exhaustive plan as laid down in the judgment. The judgment also suggests, in line with the recommendations, to set up an expert panel called the Central Oversight Body which may issue directions from time to time. [Shafi Mohammad v State of Himachal Pradesh, Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 2302 of 2017, date of judgment: 03.04.2018]
- Kerala Professional Colleges (Regularization Of Admission In Medical Colleges) Ordinance stayed – The Supreme Court has stayed the Kerala Professional Colleges (Regularization Of Admission In Medical Colleges) Ordinance, 2017 which was aimed at saving admissions to the Kannur Medical College and Karuna Medical College, both run by private trusts. The Court held that “in our prima facie view, the Ordinance in question blatantly seeks to nullify the binding effect of the order passed by this court. Prima facie it was not open to declare this Court’s order as void or ineffective as was sought to be done by way of ordinance.” These two colleges had not followed the process for admissions, as required by NEET and any admissions made for the year 2016-2017 followed an arbitrary and opaque process. Eventually the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s order of cancelling the admissions and further barred them from conducting any new admissions for that year. In order to counter this decision, the Kerala Government came the Ordinance which essentially stated that notwithstanding any judgments or decisions of the Courts, colleges could pay Rs. 3 lakhs per student to regularise their admissions. [Medical Council of India v State of Kerala, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 231/2018, date of order: 05.04.2018]
- All petitions relating to CBSE leak dismissed – The Supreme Court has dismissed all petitions filed against the leakage of the class XII economics and class X mathematics paper. As a result of the leak, CBSE decided to re-conduct the mathematics paper for class X tentatively, and economics paper for Class XII. Two petitions filed against the decision of CBSE to cancel and re-conduct the class X exam. The petitions pointed out that the reports of the leak were only limited to Delhi and conducting a retest without considering the impact of the leak, was totally arbitrary. Another petition sought the making of the economics retest as optional. A petitioner sought conducting the entire gamut of class XII papers again, while another sought the quashing of holding of a mathematics retest. But the Court dismissed all petitions citing the requests to be beyond its jurisdiction. [Master Rohan Mathew v CBSE, Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 268/2018, date of order: 04.04.2018]
- 4 States directed to pay tea garden workers unpaid for 15 years – The Supreme Court has directed four States, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, to make an interim payment of approximately Rs. 127 crores to tea garden workers, whose legal dues had remained unpaid for over 15 years. This was a result of a contempt petition. In 2003, a committee on plantation labour appointed found that out of the 4819 registered plantations, 1367 had defaulted in the payment of workers’ dues, the largest defaulters being the above four mentioned states. The Governments were ordered to perform its duties including payment of wages, under the Tea Quality Upgradation and Product Diversification Scheme within 6 months, which it never did, amounting to contempt. [International Union of Food Agri. v Union of India, Contempt Petition (Civil) No. 16/2012, date of order: 04.04.2018]
- Sexual intercourse in a love affair cannot be treated as rape – The Bombay High Court has held that sexual intercourse during the subsistence of a love affair cannot be treated as rape. In the facts of the case, the complainant had engaged in inter course with the accused as he had promised to marry her. The trial court had found the consent to be vitiated, as the accused had then withdrawn his promise to marry, due to the complainant’s caste. The High Court stated that Section 114A does direct to court to presume absence of consent, if the prosecutrix says so, but even after the incident had occurred, the affair was carried on and the couple engaged in intercourse later as well. The prosecutrix also added charges under the SC/ST Act only as an afterthought, and were not a part of her original complaint. [Yogesh v State, Criminal Appeal No. 16 of 2015, date of judgment: 17.02.2018]
- Bail granted to Salman Khan after two days – Salman Khan was sentenced to 5 years jail with a fine of Rs. 10,000 after being convicted for killing blackbucks, an endangered deer in a village near Jodhpur during the shooting of the film ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ in 1998. The Bishnoi community, which firmly believe in the protection of the wildlife and forests, claimed that they had come out hearing shots and even ran after the gypsy being driven by Salman. But after spending two days in central jail, the actor has managed to get bail claiming that the witnesses were not credible and the actor was in reality trying to save the animal and not kill it. Salman Khan has also been directed to not leave the country and appear before the court again on 07 May. The Bishnoi community has stated that they will move the High Court against the order. [State of Rajasthan v Salman Khan, Criminal Original No. 295 of 2014, date of judgment: 05.04.2018; Salman Khan v State, Criminal Appeal No. 410/2018, date of order: 07.04.2018]
- Notice issued on lawyers’ petition for filing ITR without Aadhaar – The Delhi High Court extended the deadline for the linking of PAN card with the Aadhaar number for the Petitioners, i.e., lawyers Vrinda Grover and Mukul Talwar. The lawyers were unable to file their income tax returns as the online portal was not accepting their returns without their Aadhaar number even though the Supreme Court has granted the extension for the linking of the two until June 30. The online portal, according to the lawyers was not allowing them to take benefit of the judgment by the Supreme Court constituting an arbitrary coercion to give their Aadhaar details. The High Court also sought response of the IT department. [Vrinda Grover v Union of India, Writ Petition No. 3226/2018, date of order: 05.04.2018]
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