Delhi High Court: Yogesh Khanna, J., reiterated that there is no provision in the Criminal Procedure Code to amend a criminal complaint, but amendment can be allowed if the amendment is sought before taking of cognizance.
Petitioner (Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today) filed an application for amendment challenging the order dated 26-02-2020 whereby the trial court directed to issue notice against the petitioner for offences under Sections 500/501/502 read with Section 120-B IPC.
India Today Magazine in its edition dated 30-04-2007 had published a news item under the title “Mission Misconduct”. The said item asserted allegations, against the complainant, of soliciting sexual favour leading to a probe that revealed financial irregularities and fudging of bills. It was also reported that consequently, the official (complainant) is back in India is facing disciplinary action.
(a) As per Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, normally an editor, printer can only be prosecuted. The petitioner is the editor-in-chief and therefore could never be prosecuted. The news item itself shows the petitioner is editor-in-chief and not an editor.
(b) The news item merely reported the facts and hence it cannot be said to be defamatory. Facts were accurate and reflected the public record and hence no defamation case could be made out.
(c) Violation of Section 196(2) CrPC: It was argued that it prohibited any Court from taking cognizance of an offence of conspiracy, other than criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for two years or above. Such cognizance can be taken only in a case where the State Government or the District Magistrate has consented in writing and since there is no consent of the State Government or by the District Magistrate, the cognizance in the present case is barred under Section 196(2) CrPC.
(d) Challanege was also based on the grounds of violation of Section 197 CrPC. It was contended that necessary sanction for prosecution was not obtained.
(e) Lastly, it was asserted that the instant petition under Section 482 CrPC was maintainable despite availability of the remedy under Section 397 CrPC.
As per the complainant, information about allegation of “sexual harassment at work place” was conveyed to him only in the form of a show cause notice. On the basis of his reply, the Ministry of External Affairs conveyed to the complainant that they would not pursue the matter further at that stage. Thus, without any basis, India Today went ahead with the publication of an unsubstantiated and unverified defamatory story and splashed it all over the world through the medium of the internet.
Act of Defamation was done on 30-04-2007 on which date there were no charges of any financial irregularities or of fudging of bills, etc, against the complainant. Such charges were created and disciplinary action initiated and pursued by the Department under the shadow of a democles sword in the form of the publication of the defamatory news story which ignited the flame and the resultant fire engulfed the whole unblemished service career, jeopardized his chances of promotion and, above all, assassinated his precious reputation.
As per the complainant, the so-called complaint dated 10.07.2005 (2006) never existed and was subsequently planted. Further, it was alleged that on the date of publication of story in India Today dated 30-04-2007, no show cause notice much less the memorandum of charges were issued to him.
Whatever information with regard to any allegations was available to the accused/officers of the MEA, who were privy to such classified/confidential information; they rather provided such classified information to India Today in an unauthorized manner and in violation of the GOI Conduct Rules applicable to them, which specifically prohibits sharing any information about service matters of its officer with the media. Thus the assertion the news story on 30-04-2007 was only reporting of a fact which was in public record, was completely misleading.
Analysis, Law and Decision
(a) The High Court was of the opinion that the argument that as per Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, normally an editor can only be prosecuted cannot be adhered to. It was reiterated that it is matter of evidence in each case and if the complaint is allowed to proceed only against the editor whose name is printed in the newspaper against whom there is a statutory presumption under Section 7 and in case such editor succeeds in proving that he was not the editor having control over the selection of alleged libelous matter published in the newspaper, the complainant would be left without any remedy left to redress the arguments against the real culprits.
(b) On the second issue, the Court said that 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 came to the fore of editors require critical examination and hence evidence of these issues is required.
The ingredients of Section 499 IPC clearly point out towards the imputation published in any form which also include newspaper. In case the petitioner seeks the protection of an exception under Section 499, that stage is yet to come, meaning thereby the submissions made by the petitioners are not applicable at this stage.
It was noted that as per record available before the Court, the story by the petitioner against the complainant, was allegedly published much prior to the issue of show cause notice. Subsequent to this, the complainant was exonerated from all the allegations vide an order dated 04-04-2008, but as per the complainant, with the publication of the article in question, the complainant was allegedly defamed in the eyes of his wife, his family, his friends and colleagues and society, in India and all over the world. Till date the defamatory article allegedly haunts him and that is the reason the complainant has been vigorously pursuing litigation.
(c) Further, the Court doubted whether Section 196(2) CrPC will be applicable in the present case. Anyhow, in this case, the Magistrate after due process of law and after applying her mind to the facts and circumstances of the complaint, has taken cognizance and thus has consented in writing to the initiation of the proceedings against the petitioner vide a summoning order dated 20.04.2013, hence this objection was not relevant at this stage.
(d) With respect to the objection qua violation of Section 197 CrPC, the High Court expressed that in the present matter, petitioner was neither a judge nor a public servant, therefore no sanction was required to initiate criminal action by the Magistrate against the petitioner.
Relying on the Supreme Court decision in State v. Battenapatla Venata Ratnam, (2015) 13 SCC 87, the Court opined that as the allegations against the government official are of leaking of the confidential information of complainant to block his career, and allegedly for their own pleasure, hence, prima facie, at this stage, per allegations, sanction was not required.
(e) On the question of maintainability of the instant petition, the Court was of the view that allegations and counter allegations in the present matter raised disputed questions of facts and cannot be dwelled into by the High Court under Section 482 CrPC.
All the defenses raised in the instant petition, can very well be taken up by the petitioner during the course of trial, said the High Court.
Whether amendment can be allowed at the instant stage
In the present case, the trial court had already taken cognizance of the complaint and proceeded with the trial. As per the High Court, the amendment which was now sought is illegal and against the provisions of law.
In the present matter, the amendment were sought when the Magistrate had already taken cognizance of the complaint and had proceeded with trial. The High Court relied on the Supreme Court decision in S.R. Sukumar v. S. Sunaad Raghuram, (2015) 9 SCC 609, wherein it was held that, there is no provision in CrPC to amend criminal complaint, but amendment can be allowed if the amendment is sought before taking cognizance.
Therefore, the present petition was dismissed as no ground to interfere under Section 482 CrPC was found. [Aroon Purie v. State, Crl. MC No. 3492 of 2013, decided on 07-04-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
[CRL.M.C. 3492/2013 CRL.M.As. 12820/2013 & 18912/2014]
For the Petitioner: Mr. Siddharth Luthra, Senior Advocate with Mr.Hrishikesh Baruah, Mr. Pranav Jain.
For the Respondents: Mr. Amit Ahlawat, APP for State. Mr.SS.Ahluwalia, Advocate for R2/ Amicus Curie.
[CRL.M.C. 4636/2013, CRL.M.A.Nos.16659/2013, 17386/2020]
For the Petitioner: Mr. Ajay Digpaul, CGSC with Mr. Kamal R.Digpaul, Advocate
For the Respondents: Mr. S.S. Ahluwalia, Advocate/ amicus curie and Mr. Mohit Bansal, Advocate.
[CRL.M.C. 1762/2014, CRL.M.A.Nos.5882/2014, 17297/2020, 17299/2020]
For the Petitioner: Mr. Hrishikesh Baruah, Mr. Ajay P.Tushir, Mr. Shailendra Singh, Mr. Pranav Jain, Mr. Shahrukh, Advocates.
For the Respondents: Mr. Amit Ahlawat, APP for State. Mr.S.S.Ahluwalia, Advocate/ amicus curie and Mr. Mohit Bansal, Advocate for Mr. O.P.Bhola