In a setback to AAP leader Raghav Chadha, the Delhi High Court today dismissed “as devoid of merit” his plea that he cannot be made to face a criminal case only for retweeting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet against Union Minister Arun Jaitley in the DDCA row. Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal also rejected Chadha’s argument that the case against him fell under the ambit of the Information Technology Act and not the Indian Penal Code and added that the trial court’s decision to summon him was a “well reasoned order”. The trial court had summoned him as an accused in a criminal defamation case filed by Jaitley against him and five other AAP leaders, including Kejriwal.
On whether retweeting would constitute an offence of defamation under section 499 of IPC, the high court said it was a question that has to be determined in the totality of the circumstances and have to be decided during the trial. “It is not for this court, while exercising the inherent powers under section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to go into the merits of the case,” it said.
The high court also observed that that it cannot embark upon weighing of evidence and arriving at a conclusion to hold whether the allegations in the complaint by Jaitley shall constitute an offence of defamation, which entails a maximum punishment of two year jail term under section 500 IPC.
It, however, noted in its 23-page order that a perusal of the complaint and the statements of witnesses examined by Jaitley “depict that the petitioner (Chadha) along with other accused persons participated in press conference, issued derogatory statements orally, used twitter handles, retweeted, disseminated, defamatory imputations targeting the complainant through platform of press and media from December 15, 2015 onwards and continued till December 20, 2015 after the sleuths of CBI went to Delhi secretariat for conducting a search”.
“The said acts, aimed/targeted at the complainant and his family members, attracted adverse attention of the public,” the high court said. Apart from Chadha and Kejriwal, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai are also accused in the criminal defamation case filed by the BJP leader.
It went on to observe that there was sufficient material on record to show that Chadha is a spokesperson of AAP of which the other accused are office-bearers and functionaries. The high court said the material on record also showed that he belonged to a close-knit group and “followed Accused 1 (Kejriwal) to carry out the entire campaign using press conference, post on facebook, tweet and retweet as a platform to reach a large number of people”.
It said the trial court summoned Chadha after “careful scrutiny” of all relevant material by passing a “well reasoned order” that a prima facie case was made out against him and there were sufficient grounds for summoning him and face trial under sections 499 and 500 of IPC. The case came to the high court at the direction of the Supreme Court which had on September 15 asked it to decide by September 25, the AAP leader’s plea against the trial court’s order summoning him as an accused.
Chadha had moved the apex court against the high court’s July 11 order refusing to stay the lower court proceedings against him in the defamation matter. Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are facing a criminal defamation suit after they had alleged that Jaitley was allegedly involved in corrupt practices when he was the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), a post he had held from 2000 to 2013.
Jaitley, who had denied all the allegations levelled by the AAP leaders in December 2015, had also filed a civil defamation suit seeking Rs 10 crore damages from Kejriwal and others, claiming they had made “false and defamatory” statements in the case, thereby harming his reputation.