The long-running criminal defamation case of senior bureaucrat Anant Kumar Singh against former employees of The Pioneer newspaper for publishing a disputed interview in 1994 seems to be headed to the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court after a district judge dismissed the appeal against the initial conviction.
The disputed article was headlined “Any man will rape a woman in a lonely spot: DM, Muzaffarnagar,” and quoted Mr. Singh, who was then the district magistrate. It was published by The Pioneer and Hindi daily Swatantra Bharat in October 1994.
Mr. Singh says that despite his immediate denial about giving any such interview, only a truncated version of his response to the newspaper was published in the Letters to the Editor section after a significant amount of time.
In 1997, Mr. Singh, who is now a Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, filed a criminal case against The Pioneer’s former reporter Raman Kirpal, Editor A.K. Bhattacharya, Swatantra Bharat Editor Ghanshyam Pankaj and printers and publishers Deepak Mukherjee and Sanjiv Kanwar.
In 2007, they were found guilty. Mr. Kirpal faces a punishment of a year in jail and a fine of Rs. 5,000, while the others were slapped with six months’ imprisonment and Rs. 2,000 fine.
Last week, an additional district judge in Lucknow dismissed the appeal, cancelled bail, and the trial court issued non-bailable warrants. On Tuesday, however, the High Court set aside the warrants. According to Mr. Kirpal, an appeal will be filed in the High Court soon.
While dismissing the appeal, Judge P.N. Srivastav held that Mr. Singh “has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the interview written and published by the appellants have lowered his reputation in the eyes of the common man while the appellants have failed to produce any evidence which may even suggest that the reporter has taken the interview,” according to a statement from the Joint Secretary.
Vowing to appeal in the higher court, Mr. Kirpal said that Mr. Singh’s letter to the Editor claiming that the reporter had put words in his mouth itself proved that he had given an interview. “I also had a photographer with me who took pictures during the interview, providing additional proof that the interview took place,” Mr. Kirpal told The Hindu. “Unfortunately, I had left The Pioneer by then, and the newspaper also changed hands, my taxi bills proving my trip to Muzaffarnagar have been lost.”