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There is right to criticism but no right to abuse and defame any person: Himachal Pradesh HC [Read Petition]

By Rintu Mariam Biju      20 January, 2024 04:52 PM      0 Comments
There is right to criticism but no right to abuse and defame any person: Himachal Pradesh HC Read Petition]

Himachal Pradesh: The Himachal Pradesh High Court has clarified that while there's right to criticism, the Constitution of India doesn't guarantee the right to abuse or defame any person.

With this, the Court added that calling a person corrupt is defamatory in nature and that the defence of Article of 19 can't be used. 

"Calling a person corrupt is per se defamatory as it tends to lower the estimation of the person in the eyes of the public and cannot be justified by resorting to Article 19 of the Constitution of India", Justice Rakesh Kainthla observed. 

The Complaint was filed by the Minister of Horticulture, Himachal Pradesh alleging that a defamatory statement was made during a press conference against him. He was accused of not touring Kinnaur District and yet withdrawing the travel allowance allotted for the same and indulging in corruption.

The trial court said that this would come under the purview of Article 19. The Trial Court recorded the statements of the petitioner and his witnesses and thereafter held that the right of speech and expression is a fundamental right. The public has a right to know. The opposition has a right to criticize the ruling party and such criticism is essential for a vibrant democracy. Politicians should not be thin-skinned and hypersensitive. There was no mens rea. Hence, the complaint 

was dismissed. This prompted the filing of a plea in the High Court. 

Advocate Nitin Thakur, the counsel for the petitioner submitted that the Trial Court misdirected itself while passing the order. It was wrongly held that the accused had a right to criticize the petitioner. The right of criticism does not extend to hurling abuses and defamation; therefore, he prayed that the present petition be allowed. 

According to the court, the Trial Court was swayed by the promotion of healthy and vibrant democracy by the right of criticism. 

"As already stated, there is a right to criticism but not a right to abuse and defame any person. Granting the right to abuse and defame a person will not make a democracy healthy and vibrant but will turn it into a mudslinging arena where the opposition and dissent will be crushed by abuses and slurs"

In the present case, the statement made by the accused- respondent that the petitioner had withdrawn the excess amount can amount to criticism of the public official and exposure of his acts. 

"The learned Trial Court was swayed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India. It was rightly submitted that this Article is not absolute but subject to the exceptions carved out in it", the High Court said. 

However, the Court noted that nothing was stated in the complaint or the statement on oath that the words used by the accused were intended to provoke the complainant or any other person to commit a breach of peace. Hence, no grounds for summoning the accused for the commission of an offence punishable under section 504 of IPC (Insult intended to provoke breach of peace) is made out. 

The complaint has also been filed for the commission of an offence punishable under section 505 (c) which provides that the statement should have been made with intent to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community. It is difficult to see how calling the complainant corrupt will incite one community against the other. Hence, this offence is also not made out, the Court said, while partly allowing the plea.

 

[Read Petition] 



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