Del HC | Complaint against Business Standard for defaming ‘member of RSS’ quashed: Who qualifies as an aggrieved person to file defamation complaint? HC explains

Delhi High Court: Suresh Kumar Kait, J., quashed a complaint about defamation filed by a lawyer against Business Standard. It was held that the complainant had no locus to file the complainant.

What do the petitioners want?

Petitioner sought the quashing of Order as well as Complaint Case titled: Lohitaksha Shukla v. Business Standard (P) Ltd. pending before the Metropolitan Magistrate.

What was the basis of complaint?

Complaint was based on an article titled: “The Long and Short of it” which was published in the petitioner’s newspaper – Business Standard under the authorship of Mitali Saran.

Averments of the Complainant

Lohitaksha Shukla, Complainant who was an advocate by profession averred that he was informed about the factum of publication of the article by his friends. In the complaint he alleged that the article was not based on facts and contained some defamatory insinuations against RSS and it’s members, as it accused members of RSS being oppressive to Indians, mentally disturbed and disrespectful to Indian National Symbols ridden with psycho sexual complexes, practitioners of discrimination based on caste and physically unfit.

Further, he added that being a member of RSS, his reputation had been adversely affected.

Metropolitan Magistrate found that there was sufficient material for summoning the accused 1, 2 and 3 under Section 500 IPC.

Petitioner’s Stand

Petitioners submitted that if a Magistrate were to take cognizance of the offence of defamation on a complaint filed by one who was not an “aggrieved person”, the trial and conviction of an accused in such a case by Magistrate would be void and illegal.

Petitioner 2 has averred that the allegation of complainant that he was ‘Editor in Chief’ of petitioner 1 at the time of publication of the article was baseless, as he had never been ‘Editor in Chief’ of petitioner 1.

Adding to the above, it was submitted that the complainant was not “person aggrieved” within the meaning of Section 199(1) CrPC and hence, was not competent to institute a private complaint and even if the complaint was taken on the face value, the same did not disclose any offence whatsoever which falls within the ambit of Sections 499 and 500 IPC.

Complainant could not establish how his reputation was harmed or his moral or intellectual character was lowered as a result of the said article. Though he claimed that he had been asked by his friends to leave RSS as a result of that article, but he could not bring anyone to the witness box in support of the said assertion, hence failed to prove that article brought any kind of defamation to him.

Bench noted that Section 199(1) CrPC mandated that the magistrate could take cognizance of the offence only upon receiving a complaint by a person who was aggrieved.

Purpose and intent of this provision is to limit the power of Magistrate to take cognizance of offences pertaining to defamation in order to prevent and discourage the filing of frivolous complaints. 

Court observed that, in the present case, the complainant had not been able to show as to how he was the “person aggrieved” within the definition of Section 199(1) CrPC and thus, the contents of complaint suffered from vices of illegality or infirmity. Even complainant was not a part of “identifiable class” or definite “association or collection of persons” as enumerated in Explanation (2) to Section 499 of IPC.

Trial Court did not take into consideration the above-stated provision.

High Court referred to the Supreme Court decision in Mehmood Ul Rehman v. Khazir Mohammad Tunda, (2015) 12 SCC 420 with regard to the scope of “opinion of Magistrate”.

Hence, in view of the above discussions, Court held that the complaint in question was not maintainable and was liable to be dismissed.  [Business Standard (P) Ltd. v. Lohitaksha Shukla,  2021 SCC OnLine Del 988, decided on 01-03-2021]

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