DEFAMATION LAW (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 – Polity)

News-CRUX-10     20th March 2024        
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Context: The Supreme Court recently restrained a trial court from proceeding until mid-May with a criminal defamation case against Delhi Chief Minister for retweeting a YouTube video against the ruling party's IT cell in 2018.

Defamation in India

  • About: Defamation is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.
  • Legal provisions: In India, defamation can both be a civil wrong and a criminal offence.
  • Section 499: Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
  • Section 500: Punishment for defamation- simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Exceptions: Exceptions are provided under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, including truth made for public good, opinions about public servants, and statements made in public interest. These exceptions exempt persons making defamatory statements from punishment under certain circumstances.
  • Constitutionality: Defamation laws in India have faced controversy regarding their compatibility with the right to free speech guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. 

Supreme Court View

  • Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India case (2014): The Court approved the Constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) in the Indian Penal Code, underlining that an individual’s fundamental right to live with dignity and reputation “cannot be ruined solely because another individual can have his freedom”.
  • J Jayalalithaa case (2016): The court passed strictures on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for misusing the criminal defamation law to “suffocate democracy” and, the court said, “public figures must face criticism”.
  • Arun Jaitley Vs. Arvind Kejriwal: Arvind Kejriwal and five others were found guilty of making defamatory statements against Arun Jaitley. The matter was resolved after the defendants apologized.
  • Kaushal Kishore vs Union of India (2017):  A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court emphasized that no additional constraints beyond those outlined in Article 19(2) can be imposed on free speech.

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