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Delhi HC dismisses Raghav Chadha petition, trial court to decide whether retweet can lead to defamation

Aditya AK

The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed the petition filed by AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha challenging his summoning in the defamation suit filed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

While dismissing the petition, Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal made it clear that the Court would not go into the merits of the case.

Chadha had initially appeared before the Supreme Court with a view to quashing his impleadment in the case, in which he allegedly retweeted some defamatory remarks made by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal against Jaitley. The apex court had directed the Delhi High Court to determine whether the case falls under the parameters of Section 482 Cr.PC, on or before September 25.

Senior Advocates Anand Grover (appearing for Chadha) and Sidharth Luthra (appearing for Jaitley) argued before the single judge for two consecutive days, before the matter was reserved for judgment last Friday.

The main issue in the case was whether a retweet falls under the scope of ‘publication’ under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, and would consequently lead to defamation.

Grover had argued that a retweet does not amount to publication for the purpose of Section 499 IPC, and that Section 66A of the IT Act would govern the punishment for sending offensive messages through online resources. However, since that provision was struck down by the Supreme Court, Rule 3 (2) (b) of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines Rules), 2011 would apply. Under these Rules, it was argued, the intermediary was bound to act within thirty-six days of publication of the offensive information.

Luthra, on the other hand, argued that the summoning order against Chadha was not merely based on his retweet, but on oral observations made by him as well. Further, the fact that Section 66A of the IT Act has been struck down does not affect the right of a person who has been defamed and he will continue to have access to the provision of Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC.

Having considered arguments from both sides, the Court observed,

“There is sufficient material on record to show that the petitioner is a spokesperson of the political party of which other accused are office bearers and functionaries and belongs to a closed knit group and followed A-1 to carry out the entire campaign using the press conference, post on facebook, tweet and retweet as a platform to reach a large number of people.”

Justice Sehgal did not deem it a case fit for the Court to exercise its powers under Section 482 Cr.PC. Moreover, it was held that the central issue would have to be determined by the trial court.

“Whether retweeting would attract the liability under Section 499 IPC, is a question which requires to be determined in the totality of the circumstances and the same will have to be determined during trial and any interference at this stage by this court is likely to prejudice the findings of the Trial Court. It is not for this Court, while exercising inherent powers under section 482 of Cr.P.C., to go into the merits of the case.”

Thus, the petition stood dismissed. In effect, Chadha will now fight the case alongside Kejriwal in the Patiala House trial court.

Read the judgment:

Judgment-dt.25.09.2017-Raghav-Chadha-Vs.-State-Anr-watermark.pdf
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