Punjab and Haryana High Court

Punjab and Haryana High Court: While deciding the instant petition revolving around alleged defamatory tweets concerning the respondent by Bollywood actress Kangna Ranaut; the single-Judge bench of Meenakshi I. Mehta, J. issued a notice of motion and directed the Trial Court to adjourn the proceedings in the criminal complaint beyond the next date of hearing as fixed in the instant petition.

Facts of the case: In September 2020, during the farmers’ agitation against 3 Central Farm Legislations, there were a plethora of tweets and comments on social media talking about the protests. One of these tweets were from a twitter handle named ‘Adhivakta Gautam Yadav’ . The account posted two pictures- one was of the respondent and another of Bilkis Bano,(popularly known as the ‘Shaheen Bagh Dadi’), stating that the two women were the same person who allegedly protested at Shaheen Bagh during the Anti-CAA protests and in the Farmers’ Protests. The account also made certain comments in the tweet attached to the said photo. The petitioner retweeted and commented upon the original tweet. The petitioner’s retweet/comment led to an even greater furore on social media, with the petitioner eventually deleting the retweet.

Subsequently, the respondent filed a complaint under Sections 499, 500 IPC in Police Station, Nandgarh, District Bhatinda, against the alleged defamatory tweet of the petitioner.

Legal Trajectory: On 5-01-2021, the case titled as Mahinder Kaur v. Kangna Ranaut, COMI-01-2021, was listed before theJudicial Magistrate First Class, Bathinda (Trial Court). After Mahinder Kaur’s evidence was recorded, the Trial Court observed that, since Kangna Ranaut resides beyond the Court’s jurisdiction, therefore as per Section 202 CrPC the Court is required to either enquire into the case or direct an investigation by the Police Officials. However, via on order dated 22-03-2021, the Trial Court concluded that no investigation is required to be made by the police and chose to call for a report from the Director, Twitter Communications India Pvt. Ltd. to see if the alleged tweet has been made by the petitioner.

In the Order dated 22-02-2022, the Trial Court observed that “The accused in her tweet posted a picture of the complainant and made a remark that the complainant is available in 100 rupees. Such remark when seen through the lens of above discussion prima facie proves that the intent of the accused was to paint the complainant as a of dubious integrity who is protesting without any cause and just for financial gains. Since the accused is a celebrity having an extensive fan following, the publication by her tweet invariably reaches millions of people. As she holds a position of influence over the masses, she has extra responsibility on her shoulders to verify the truthfulness of the remarks made by her. In view of the above discussion, it stands prima facie proved on record the accused published remarks against the complainant with an intention to harm her reputation.” Accordingly, summons were issued by the Trial Court.

Aggrieved with the above-mentioned impugned Order, the petitioner approached the High Court, seeking to set aside the complaint filed by the respondent.

The counsels of the petitioner contended that while passing the impugned summoning order, the Trial Court has mis-construed the provisions as contained in Section 202 CrPC. It was also argued that the petitioner had only re-tweeted the tweet texted by ‘Adhivakta Gautam Yadav’ who has not been arrayed as an accused in the complaint case filed by the respondent, thereby revealing the ulterior motives behind the complaint. Noting the submissions on behalf of the respondent that they require some time to file a written reply to the petition, the Court issued a notice of motion and directing the respondents to file their reply on or before the next date of hearing i.e., 08-09-2022.

[Kangana Ranaut v. Mahinder Kaur, CRM-M No.28891 of 2022, decided on 11-07-2022]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Abhinav Sood, Advocate with Anmol Gupta, Nitesh Jhajhria, Jashan Mehta, Dhrun Chowfla, Abhuwrat Arya, Advocates, for the Petitioner.

*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

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