The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa for using defamation cases to “throttle democracy” and asked her to focus more on “good governance”.
“This is not done. You can’t use defamation case to throttle democracy. This is not healthy democracy. You must face criticism if you are a public figure,” a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said, adding that “the government cannot use state machinery to file criminal defamation cases against political opponents. It should focus more on good governance.” The court’s observations came on a petition filed by DMDK chief A Vijayakanth seeking quashing of defamation cases filed against him by state government.
The apex court had earlier in July said defamation cases should not be used as a political counter weapon against the critics of governments and had stayed non-bailable warrants issued against the actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth and his wife Premlata in such matters. The Tirupur court had issued non-bailable warrants against the couple following their non-appearance before it in the defamation case filed in February. Captain Vijaykanth is facing 14 defamation cases for criticising the working of the state government.
Anyone calling a government corrupt or unfit cannot be slapped with a defamation case, it had told the CM. It had said that cases relating to criticising the government or bureaucrats had a “chilling effect” and there has to be tolerance to criticism.
Condemning the Jayalalithaa’s action in strong words, the apex court observed that any criticism of public policy cannot be the ground for filing defamation suits as it disrupts the functioning of democracy. Besides, defamation cases cannot be filed for merely reporting on the chief minister’s health. It further said that no other state misuses state machinery like the Tamil Nadu government.
In the meantime, the court was informed that so far the Jayalalithaa government has filed 131 defamation cases against for criticising the government and its policies in the last five years, of which 55 cases were against the media and five cases involved Jayalalithaa.