The former Army Chief, General (Retired) V.K. Singh, and four serving Army officers were on Friday summoned by a court here to face charges of criminal defamation on a complaint by retired Lieutenant-General Tejinder Singh who alleged that a press release issued by Army Headquarters on March 5 tarnished his reputation.
The other four accused persons who have been summoned are Vice-Chief of Army Staff Lt. General S. K. Singh, Director-General of Military Intelligence Lt. General B.S. Thakur, Additional Director-General of Public Information in the Army Headquarters Major General S. L. Narasimhan, and an officer in the Public Information Department Colonel Hitten Sawhney. They will have to appear before the court on July 20.
However, Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja ruled out the charge of criminal conspiracy that Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh wanted slapped on the five accused persons. “It is made clear that the accused are not being summoned qua the allegation of hatching a criminal conspiracy against the complainant. Upon appreciating the entire evidence/material produced before this court, the allegation regarding hatching of a criminal conspiracy by respondents appears to be absurd and without any foundation. The accused are only being summoned qua offence described under Section 499 (defamation) read with Section 35 (an act which becomes criminal because it was done with criminal knowledge or intention and each person involved in the act becomes equally liable) of the Indian Penal Code,” Mr. Thareja said.
The court said the complicity of the former Army Chief, who retired on May 31, in the publication of the March 5 press release was “prima facie deducible from the fact that he alone had knowledge about the offer of bribe made by the complainant.” The bribe allegation had found mention in the press release.
The court further added: “Without him [V.K. Singh] having told the respondents 4 and 5 (Narasimhan and Sawhney) or any other person about the offer of bribe made by the complainant, the defamatory information about the complainant offering a bribe would not have percolated down to the respondents 4 and 5.”
Referring to a letter written by Defence Ministry official R. Sunder stating that the press release was issued after obtaining approval at the “highest levels in the army,” the court said the complicity of the former Army Chief, V.K. Singh, Vice-Chief S.K. Singh and Military Intelligence head B.S. Thakur was also “prima facie deducible” from this.
The court further relied on the testimony of complainant Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh who had deposed that communications like the March 5 press release are “issued following approval by a hierarchy” comprising the Chief of Army Staff, Vice-Chief, Head of Military Intelligence and Head of Public Information.
With the Defence Ministry's files not having any office notings approving the press release, the court said the testimony of Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh “has been believed at the stage, because being a former Head of Military Intelligence, the complainant has knowledge/foundation to testify/depose about practice and procedures being followed at the Army Headquarters regarding publication of communications like the press release dated March 5.”