The Telangana High Court has directed IAS officer Smita Sabharwal to refund an amount of ₹ 15 Lakhs sanctioned to her by the state government to file a defamation suit against the Outlook magazine over an alleged defamatory article.

A Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Abhinand Kumar Shavili passed the Judgment in a batch of cases including Public Interest Litigations filed challenging the Government Order sanctioning the said amount to the IAS officer towards court fee and other legal expenses in filling the defamation suit. The Magazine also had filed a writ petition challenging the government order.

In July 2015, Outlook magazine published an article titled 'No Boring Babu' about the IAS officer, including about her walking the ramp in a fashion show that took place in 'The Park' hotel in Hyderabad in June 2015 along with her husband.

In the Affidavit filed by the state government, it said that the article contained a caricature of the IAS officer and also of the Chief Minister of Telangana along with certain photographs.

The following extract from the article is quoted in the Judgment:-

"The portfolio of a junior bureaucrat, who is posted in the Telangana CM's office, is a mystery. She used to be posted in a district earlier. But things changed all of a sudden after the elections. The lady is present at every meeting and seen in almost every official photograph sent out by the CMO. But what she does exactly is a puzzle. She makes a fashion statement, with her lovely saris and serves as "eye candy" at meetings, admit leading party politicians. In fact, it's this bureaucrat who calls up other officials in the CMO and asks them to come for meetings. She knows exactly what time the CM will arrive and leave the office. The lovely lady, known for her ethnic style, recently stunned all by appearing in a trendy trouser and frilly top at a fashion show. And for once, she wasn't sitting in an official meeting. But this appearance too made for a great photo op."

The IAS officer then made a representation to the government for grant of financial assistance of ₹ 15 Lakhs stating that she needs an amount of ₹ 9,75,000/- for payment of court fee. The State Government by a GO dated 20.08.2015, sanctioned ₹15.00 lakhs towards legal expenses and other expenses for filing the suit against the Outlook Magazine.

The State defended its order stating that the IAS officer was working as an Additional Secretary to the Chief Minister and that the defamatory article was published to ruin the reputation of the IAS Officer as well as the Chief Minister. "It was published to create a misleading impression against the Government's functioning", the state said.

The state argued that several IAS officers have been given assistance and that the order was issued "in public interest as well as in protecting and safeguarding the IAS Officer, who is working with the Government."

The Court noted that the fashion show was a private event and not an official event of the state. The Court also noted that the Defamation suit that was filed by the IAS officer was dismissed for default and that no step was taken for its restoration.

Referring to Article 282 of the Constitution, the Court held that the state can make grants only for public purposes and that "the grant made in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case to file a suit for defamation made is certainly not a grant made in public purpose".

"Filing of a case by an individual in his private capacity against another private entity can never said to be for the 'public purpose", the Court held.

The Court did not accept the reliance placed by the state upon executive instructions issued by the Center for financial assistance to All India Service Officers in connection with litigation. The Court held that it applies only to litigation in respect of discharge of official duties.

The Court allowed the two PILs and a Writ Petition and directed Smita Sabharwal IAS to refund ₹ 15 Lakhs within 90 days, failing which, the "state shall recover the same from the Officer in question within a period of thirty (30) days thereafter, under intimation to the Registrar General of this Court".

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