P&H HC | Under S. 499 IPC, is it only the ‘family members’ or ‘near relatives’ of deceased person, against whom imputations have been made, can claim to be ‘persons aggrieved’? Court explains

Punjab and Haryana High Court

Punjab and Haryana High Court: Sanjay Kumar, J., quashed the proceedings under Section 499 IPC against the petitioner holding that the complainant was neither a family member nor a near relative of the deceased whose defamation was alleged to have been caused by the petitioner, and hence the complaint itself was not maintainable.

The instant petition was filed under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 seeking to quash complaint titled Sant Kanwar v. Raj Kumar Saini, Complaint No. 83 of 2018 under Sections 499, 500 and 501 of Penal Code, 1860.

It was noted by the Court that the issue of maintainability of the instant petition under Section 482 CrPC stands settled in favour of the petitioner as the inherent powers of this Court cannot be curtailed by existence of the alternative remedy of revision under Section 397 CrPC. 

On perusal of the complaint, respondent-complainant demonstrated that he claimed to be a follower of late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda, an Arya Samajist and freedom fighter. He stated that late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda was an inspiration and a guiding light for him. While so, he claimed to have read newspapers on 02-04-2018 and 03-04-2018, wherein it was reported that the petitioner had made several defamatory statements against late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda. It is on the strength of these newspaper reports that he filed the subject complaint alleging that the petitioner had committed the offence of defamation.

Section 199 CrPC deals with prosecution for defamation. Sub-section 1 thereof states that no Court should take cognizance of an offence punishable under Chapter XXI of the Penal Code, 1860, except upon a complaint made by some person aggrieved by the offence. The said provision mandates that the complaint made by a ‘person aggrieved’.

Section 499 IPC defines defamation and Explanations 1 and 2 appended thereto give an indication as who would be a ‘person aggrieved’. Explanation 1 states that imputing anything to a deceased person would amount to defamation, if such imputation would have harmed the reputation of that person had he been living and such imputation is intended to be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives. Explanation 2 states that it may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.

In view of the above, the Court stated that the ‘person aggrieved’ must have an element of personal interest, being either the person defamed himself or in the case of a deceased person, his family member or other near relatives.

Section 320 CrPC permits compounding of the offence of defamation but it is only the person who is defamed who can agree to the same. For the said, Patna High Court’s decision in Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh v. State of Bihar, 1986 SCC OnLine Patna 174 was referred to, wherein it was observed that though generally, the person aggrieved is only the person defamed, an exception has been made in the case of a deceased person but the ‘persons aggrieved’ even in such case are limited only to members of his family or his near relatives, whose feelings would be hurt by the defamatory statement, and none else.

In the instant case, the respondent-complainant did not claim to be a member of the family of late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda or his near relative. The summoning order manifested that he contended before the Magistrate that he fell within the definition of a ‘person aggrieved’ as his family was closely ‘related’ to late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda, but this claim seemed to have been based more on ideological considerations rather than any actual ‘relationship.

Explanation 1 to Section 499 IPC makes it amply clear that it is only the ‘family members’ or ‘near relatives’ of the deceased person, against whom imputations have been made, who can claim to be ‘persons aggrieved’.

Therefore, the respondent-complainant, who is not a ‘family member’ or ‘near relative’ of late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda, cannot unilaterally assume unto himself the status of an ‘aggrieved person’ under Section 199 CrPC, whereby he could assert that his feelings were hurt and maintain the subject complaint against the petitioner before the Magistrate for the alleged offence of defamation.

In view of the above discussion, the Court stated that the complaint was deficient and tainted in its very inception, therefore not maintainable. [Raj Kumar Saini v. Sant Kanwar, 2020 SCC OnLine P&H 2165, decided on 02-12-2020]

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