Sasikala Pushpa
Sasikala Pushpa|EPS
Litigation News

Electorate has right to know about 'behind curtains' meetings: Delhi HC imposes a cost on Sasikala Pushpa to be paid to Facebook, Google

Angelenne

Holding that the electorate has a right to know about the “behind curtains meetings” of a politician, the Delhi High Court has dismissed a suit by former Rajya Sabha Member, Sasikala Pushpa for the removal of her photographs with a male political rival from social media. (Sasikala Pushpa vs Facebook & ors)

The Court also imposed costs on Sasikala Pushpa, directing her to pay Rs 2 lakh each to Facebook on one hand and Google and YouTube LLC together on the other.

The Judgment was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw.

Sasikala Pushpa (Plaintiff) had instituted a suit in September 2019 against the Central Government, Facebook, Google, YouTube and other unknown persons to restrain them from publishing any defamatory material against her, including certain allegedly objectionable photographs.

The Court was informed that the Plaintiff was a sitting Member of Rajya Sabha from All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and due to certain political circumstances, there were threats that certain photographs and videos would be uploaded on social media to defame and embarrass her.

Consequently, the photographs in question before the Court were circulated on social media.

When the matter came up before Court, ex-parte ad-interim injunction was issued against the social media platforms, restraining them from publishing, broadcasting, distributing etc any defamatory material in the nature of photographs relatable to the Plaintiff.

When the Court perused the photographs, it was observed that while they appearead to have been taken inside a house and/or in the private garden of a house, none of them could be classified as obscene or showing the Plaintiff and the man in the picture in any compromising or scandalizing position.

At least in one of the frames of the first photograph, the Plaintiff and the man appear to be posing for the photograph though other photographs may fall in the genre of those taken without the knowledge of the plaintiff and the man, the Court added.

In response, the Plaintiff argued that even if the photographs did not qualify as obscene, due to the circumstances of the political rivalry and the Plaintiff being married to another man, the photographs were defamatory.

Alternatively, it was argued that even if photographs were held to be genuine and taken with the consent, uploading them on the social media platforms violated the privacy of the Plaintiff.

While adjudicating the matter, the Court observed that the plaint neither disclosed the identity of the man in the photographs nor did it state the factum of the man belonging to the rival political party.

The Court opined that the plaint “only vaguely” pleaded that the photographs were defamatory and tarnished the image of the Plaintiff, without disclosing how.

..the photographs of the plaintiff, I repeat, a politician, with a man other than husband, can by any stretch of imagination be considered by any person of average intellect and moral standard, to be lowering the esteem in which the plaintiff is held or as tarnishing the image of the plaintiff.”
Delhi High Court said.

It was also stated that the Plaintiff's claim of the photographs being morphed, forged and fabricated also did not deserve to be put to trial.

In the absence of all particulars with respect to contention, the Court concluded that the plea of the photographs being morphed, forged and fabricated was "not a material one" within the meaning of Order XIV Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to invite the framing of an issue.

Further observing that the suit had not named the alleged forger/fabricator or the person who has morphed the photographs, the Court also said that it was also bad for the reason of non-joinder of necessary parties.

Lastly, the Court considered if the photographs violated the privacy of the Plaintiff.

Remarking that the right of privacy claimed by the Plaintiff had to balanced with the right of the public to know the identity of the person whom the Plaintiff, a politician, meets, the Court stated,

The plaintiff, as a representative of people and whether performing executive function or functions as a Legislator, would be issuing orders / directions and/or participate in law making, regulating the conduct of human beings and in the said context the electorate has a right to know of the behind curtains meetings of the plaintiff with a man other than her husband and particularly a man belonging to a political party which the plaintiff, before the public criticises or opposes in the elections. If such meetings with member of a rival political party, which the plaintiff wants to remain hidden from the public, are not of interest to the public for the purposes of maintaining purity of administration and law making, little else would qualify as of public interest. The plaintiff, of course cannot be permitted to publically oppose and criticise a political party to whose members she is otherwise close. Or, at least public has an interest in knowing the true state of affairs.
Delhi High Court

While holding that the Plaintiff was not entitled to the reliefs claimed, the Court dismissed the suit with costs of Rs 2 lakh each payable equally to Facebook Inc. on the one hand and Google LLC and YouTube LLC together on the other.

Plaintiff was represented by Senior Advocate Sushil Bajaj with Advocates Bhavook Chauhan, Aasifa Sheikh, Praavita Kaushik.

Facebook was represented by Advocates Richa Srivastava, Shijo George, Dhruv Bhatnagar, Nayantara Narayan.

Google and YouTube were represented by Senior Advocate Arun Kathpalia with Advocates Neel Mason, Ridhima Pabbi.

Centre was represented by Advocates Ruchir Mishra, MK Tiwari, Abhishek Rana.

Read the Judgement:

Sasikala Pushpa vs Facebook & ors.pdf
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