While setting aside the order of summoning passed against BJP leader Vijender Gupta in a defamation case, the Supreme Court has observed that statements such as "I will expose you", and "I will expose the scam in which you are involved, etc." are not by themselves defamatory unless there is something more.

Further, the Court also reiterated that defamatory statements must be very specific and not very vague and general.

The Bench of Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice V Ramasubramanian was dealing with appeals challenging a Delhi High Court's order refusing to quash summons of a trial court against BJP leaders Manoj Tiwari and Vijender Gupta in a criminal defamation case.

The Supreme Court dismissed the plea of BJP leader Manoj Tiwari while the plea by Vijender Gupta was allowed.

Senior Counsel Pinky Anand and Counsel R Venkatramani appeared for the Appellants, whereas Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Counsel Shadan Farasat appeared for the Respondents.

The Court observed that "We do not know how a statement in a tweet that the answers of respondent No.1 to the questions posed by the appellant will disclose his scam, can be said to be defamatory. We are afraid that even if a person belonging to a political party had challenged a person holding public office by stating "I will expose your scam", the same may not amount to defamation. Defamatory statement should be specific and not very vague and general. The essential ingredient of Section 499 is that the imputation made by the accused should have the potential to harm the reputation of the person against whom the imputation is made. Therefore, we are of the view that the statement made by Shri Vijender Gupta (A­5) to the effect "your answer will disclose your scam" cannot be considered to be an imputation intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of respondent No.1."

In this case, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had filed a complaint under Section 200 of the CrPC against six individuals before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate - I, alleging the commission of offences under Sections 499 and 500 read with Sections 34 and 35 of the IPC.

He alleged that in July 2019, Manoj Tiwari held a Press Conference making false and defamatory statements. He claimed that Manoj Tiwari had indicated that he was involved in corruption to the tune of Rs. 2000 crores in awarding contracts for building classrooms in Delhi Government Schools.

It was further alleged that Accused No. 2 to 4 had shared the platform with Accused No. 1 and also made the same defamatory statements, and Accused No. 5 (Vijender Gupta) had tweeted defamatory contents.

The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate directed the issue of summons to all the Accused, holding that there were sufficient grounds to proceed against the Accused.

The Accused persons challenged this order by approaching the High Court; however, the appeals were dismissed.

The Accused then approached the Supreme Court.

With the intent to understand the scope and ambit of the procedures prescribed in Section 199 of the Code, the Supreme Court deemed it to be necessary to analyse the legislative history of the provisions. In that context, the Court said that "Unfortunately, there emerges two versions of this history, one from the amendments made to the Code of 1898 in the years 1943, 1955 and 1964 and the Code of 1973 and the other emerging from the 41st Report of the Law Commission. We shall take note of both versions of history."

Analysing the same, the Supreme Court observed that "The long history of the evolution of the legislation relating to prosecution for the offence of defamation of public servants shows that the special procedure introduced in 1955 and fine­tuned in 1964 and overhauled in 1973 was in addition to and not in derogation of the right that a public servant always had as an individual. He never lost his right merely because he became a public servant and merely because the allegations related to official discharge of his duties. Sub­section (6) of Section 199 which is a reproduction of what was recommended in the 41st Report of the Law Commission to be made sub­section (13) of Section 198B, cannot be made a dead letter by holding that persons covered by sub­section (2) of Section 199 may have to invariably follow only the procedure prescribed by sub­section (4) of Section 199. Therefore, the common ground raised by both the appellants is liable to be rejected. A person falling under the category of persons mentioned in sub­section (2) of Section 199 can either take the route specified in sub­section (4) or take the route specified in sub­Section (6) of Section 199."

With regard to the contention regarding the special procedure prescribed in Section 237 of CrPC, the Supreme Court held that the provision has taken a new shape and that there exists a safety valve against prosecution by an individual without reasonable cause by way of Section 250 (compensation for accusation without reasonable cause).

In that context, it was said that "It is true that under sub­section (3) of Section 237, the Court is empowered to direct the public servant (other than the President, Vice­-President or the Governor of a State or the Administrator of a Union Territory) to show cause why he should not pay compensation to a person accused of committing the offence of defamation, in cases where the Court not only discharges or acquits the accused, but is also of the opinion that there was no reasonable cause for making the accusation against him. But Section 237(3) is not a new invention. What was contained in sub­sections (6) to (11) of Section 198B of the old Code of 1898 has taken a new shape in Section 237. Moreover, it is not as though there is no such safety valve against prosecution by an individual without reasonable cause, when he invokes sub­section (6) of Section 199. Whenever a person is prosecuted by a public servant in his individual capacity before a Magistrate by virtue of Section 199(6), the accused can always fall back upon Section 250, for claiming compensation on the ground that the accusation was made without reasonable cause."

As it was held that the tweets were not defamatory in nature, the Court did not go into the contention raised on the basis of Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act.

"In the result, the appeal arising out of S.L.P. (Criminal) No.658 of 2021, is allowed and the order of summoning dated 28.11.2019 passed by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate­I, Rouse Avenue Court Complex, New Delhi in Ct. Case 51/2019, insofar as Shri Vijender Gupta (A­5) is concerned, is set aside. However, the complaint may proceed in respect of other accused. The appeal arising out of S.L.P. (Criminal) No.351 of 2021 filed by Shri Manoj Kumar Tiwari shall stand dismissed.", the Court held while disposing of the appeals.

Cause Title: Manoj Kumar Tiwari v. Manish Sisodia & Ors.

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