New Delhi, Apr 8 (ILNS) The Delhi High Court today dismissed a petition filed by former India Today Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie and refused to quash a criminal complaint against him for publishing an allegedly defamatory article in his magazine.
The Criminal case was filed against Purie by former diplomat OP Bhola in relation to a news item ‘Mission Misconduct,’ which was published in its April 30, 2007 edition by India Today magazine.
Justice Yogesh Khanna, after hearing the arguments from both sides, said that there is no ground to interfere with the ongoing trial under Section 482 CrPC and dismissed the petition.
The news article ‘Mission Misconduct’ reported about the allegations against the then Indian Deputy Consul General in Edinburgh OP Bhola, stating that “allegations of soliciting sexual favour lead to a probe, which revealed financial irregularities and fudging of bills. Consequently, the official was back in India and faced disciplinary action”.
Justice Yogesh Khanna also rejected Aroon Purie’s contention that as per Section 7 of Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, only the Editor, the Printer can be prosecuted. As he is the Editor-in-Chief, he could never be prosecuted. “At this stage we need to see only the contents of the complaint. The evidence of the accused cannot be considered at this stage.”, the Bench said.
While filing the petition, Mr Bhola (respondent) said that India Today went ahead with the publication of an “unsubstantiated and unverified defamatory story,” which was splashed all over the world via the internet. “The story was published without sending prior to any showcause notice to me for the alleged misconduct. The contents of the defamatory article haunt me even today after my retirement for so many years,” the complainant said.
Arun Purie, in his petition seeking to quash criminal proceedings against him, contended that at the time of publication of the news article, the allegations of sexual harassment and financial irregularities had already been made against the complainant and even steps for disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against him. The news item, therefore, only reported a fact, which was in public record, he added.
The Court said, “The assertions that the news item merely reported facts which were accurate and reflected public records and cannot be held to be defamatory, cannot be accepted. Rather, such assertion and who was responsible for its publication and has it come to the fore of editors requires critical examination and hence, evidence of these issues is required.”
It was also argued that the summoning order was liable to be quashed on the ground of violation of Section 202 CrPC (mandatory inquiry into where the accused was residing), as well as Sections 196(2) [previous sanction of the Central Government or of the State Government or of the District Magistrate for certain offenses] and Section 197 CrPC (Prosecution of Judges and public servants).
The Court said that objection with respect to Section 196(2) CrPC was not relevant at this stage as a Metropolitan Magistrate, after due process of law and after applying her mind to the facts and circumstances of the complaint, had taken cognisance and consented, in writing, to the initiation of the proceedings vide a summoning order.
The objection in relation to violation of Section 197 CRPC was also rejected by the Court as Purie was neither a Judge nor a public servant, and therefore, no sanction was required to initiate criminal action.
The Court further ruled that the enquiry contemplated under Section 202 CrPC did not necessarily mean an enquiry by examining witnesses or by holding an investigation into the case or in any particular form.
Noting that the summoning order for the offences punishable under Section 499/500/501/502 IPC read with Section 120B IPC was issued on the basis of pre-summoning evidence, the Court observed, “The Magistrate can do it in any way he thinks proper. Moreover, the accused persons against whom the summons’ were issued, were all within the jurisdiction of the Trial Court, New Delhi District.”
In view of the allegations and counter allegations made by the parties, which raise disputed question of facts, the Court opined that the same could not be dwelled into by it Court under Section 482 CrPC.
The Court also said that it would be appropriate for Mr Purie to first approach the Sessions Court to challenge the summoning order.
“Even though powers under Section 482 CrPC are very wide and the petitioner always has the liberty to invoke either of the jurisdictions whether it is under Section 397 CrPC or Section 482 CrPC being concurrent one, but the propriety demands that elder superior court in hierarchy must be approached first…High Court can be approached first in circumstances, where the lower court has directly or indirectly interfered in the investigation or trial through its order or action, which justice demands High Court alone should interfere in an order of the Magistrate. It is not so in the present case,” the Court noted.
The petition by Saurabh Shukla, the correspondent (accused) in the case, who also sought to quash the summoning order, was also dismissed. ILNS/SNG/RJ