Delhi High Court: A suit was filed by the plaintiff, seeking a permanent injunction, along with damages and compensation from defendants 1 and 2 on account of defamation. Sachin Datta, J., directed defendants 1 and 2 to remove or take down the impugned article titled “Links of Son of Delhi Chief Secretary to Beneficiary’s Family in Land Over-Valuation Case Raise Questions” available at The Wire website.
The plaintiff was a highly reputed and admired civil servant of AGMUT Cadre, Indian Administrative Service Officer and during his expansive career of over 36 years has served various key position in Centre, State, Union Territory of India and served the public interest at large. He is currently serving as the Chief Secretary of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi since 21-04-2023. The plaint averred that the defendant 1 & 2 have made, published, circulated (or cause to be made/published/circulated) the article titled ‘Links of Son of Delhi Chief Secretary to Beneficiary’s Family in Land Over-Valuation Case Raise Questions’ dated 09-11-2023 (impugned article), available HERE containing libelous allegations and insinuations against the plaintiff, all which are false, malicious, motivated, tainted with collateral objectives, unfounded and misconceived, having been made knowingly and deliberately, calculated to harm the dignity and reputation of the plaintiff.
The plaint also averred that defendant 2, correspondent of defendant 1 (‘The Wire’) and the author for the Article dated 09-11-2023 have hosted these false insinuations on the website of The Wire, , and further circulated the same on various social media outlets such as Twitter, Google, and other media platforms, to defame the plaintiff and cause disrepute to his reputation. Thus, the malicious, false and defamatory statement made, published and circulated against the plaintiff, have caused immense damage to the reputation and goodwill of the plaintiff that has been built over a period of several decades.
The Wire (defendant 1) is a media organization having its registered office at the address mentioned in the memo of the plaint and which comes under the jurisdiction of this Court. Defendant 2 is the correspondent of Defendant 1 who writes for Defendant 1. X Corp. (formerly, Twitter) (defendant 3) is a social media platform wherein alleged defamatory content against the plaintiff has been published and circulated by defendants 1 and 2 and others, enclosing/sharing the link to the impugned article. Google LLC (defendant 4) is a search engine wherein the link of the impugned article appeared.
The Court noted that the impugned article contains defamatory and libelous allegations and insinuations, made in a reckless manner without any regard to the truth, to cause injury to the reputation of the plaintiff. The Court remarked that “impugned article proceeds on the basis that the enhanced compensation in respect of the concerned land acquired for the purpose of Dwarka Expressway, was linked to plaintiff’s “handling” of the matter. This is completely misconceived inasmuch as the enhancement was pursuant to an arbitral award dated 15.05.2023 which was rendered in terms of Section 3-G of the National Highways Act, 1956. The said award was passed by another IAS Officer in his capacity as arbitrator. It cannot be said, by any stretch of imagination, that the plaintiff could have interfered with the discharge of quasi-judicial functions entrusted to another officer.”
The Court observed that the impugned article is a litany of misrepresentations and convoluted insinuations made in a reckless manner, without any regard for the truth, and with a view to inflict damage on the reputation of the plaintiff and a grave and irreparable damage caused to the plaintiff if ad-interim injunctive orders are not passed. Thus, the Court directed
(i) the defendants 1 and 2 to remove/take down the impugned article dated 09-11-2023, available at The Wire website.
(ii) defendant 1 & 2 to remove/take down the tweets/posts circulated and published on defendant 3, available at X Corp, formerly called Twitter and images of which are filed as Document 4 and 5 of the documents accompanying with the plaint.
(iii) defendant 1 and 2 are further directed to not post, circulate or publish any similar defamatory content against the plaintiff as set out in the impugned article/publication dated 09-11-2023.
If defendants 1 and 2 fail to comply with the aforesaid directions within 48-hours of the pronouncement of this judgment, defendant 3 is directed to take down the tweets/posts filed as Document nos. 4 & 5 of the documents filed along with the plaint, and defendant 4 is directed to remove search result/s and/or de-index the web link of the article/publication dated 09-11-2023.
[Naresh Kumar v The Wire, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 7314, decided on 22-11-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Maninder Singh, Sr. Adv. and Mr. Rajshekhar Rao, Sr. Adv. along with Ms. Bani Dikshit, Mr. Uddhav Khanna, Mr. Krishan Kumar, Mr. Rohan Jaitley, Mr. Arkraj Kumar, Mr. Rishab Aggarwal and Ms. Tanya Aggarwal, Ms. Ashita Chawla and Mr. Ajay Sabharwal, Advocates for plaintiff
Mr. Sarim Naved and Mr. Harsh Kumar, Advs. for D-1 & D-2. Mr. Neel Mason, Mr. Vihan Dang, Ms. Aditi Umapathy and Ms. Pragya Jain, Advs. for D-4