Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has quashed a complaint and a summoning order passed thereon by a court here against The Hindu, its editor and the publisher to face trial in a defamation case following a complaint over publication of a report relating to a matrimonial dispute in 1994, holding that “material averments attracting the defamation charge under Section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code against the three are lacking”.

The judgment by Justice Pradeep Nandrajog came on a petition filed by the newspaper, its editor and the publisher.

The report, titled “Crime and harassment”, dealt with alleged harassment of a woman at the hands of the Crime against Women Cell of the Delhi police. The woman had approached the Cell to get her “stree-dhan” back from her husband and in-laws following disputes with them.

The report was based on facts and quotes provided by the aggrieved woman and her father complaining, among other things, that the Cell was not dealing with the case expeditiously as it was hand-in-glove with the other party.

The husband (since dead) of the woman and her father-in-law had filed the complaint in the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court under Section 499 of the Code submitting that they had been offended by the news report.

However, the complainants and the woman and her father had settled the dispute before the court passed the summoning order.

Counsel for the three, Narinder Kumar Khetrapal, argued that following the dropping of the complaint against the principal accused, the woman and her father, their clients could not be prosecuted. He also submitted that the allegations against the petitioners in the complaint did not attract Section 499 of the Code.

Accepting his arguments, Mr. Justice Nandrajog said: “In my opinion, the woman and her father being the principal accused against whom the defamation proceedings were dropped, the complaint cannot be allowed to continue against the printer and the publisher or the editor of the newspaper who at best would be guilty of abetting the commission of the offence under Section 499 of the Code. My reason for so holding is that there are no averments in the complaint that the petitioners published the offending news item with an intent to defame the complainants.”

“Since there is no allegation of conspiracy, Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) is not attracted. The petition is accordingly allowed and the summoning order as well as the complaint against the petitioners is quashed,” Mr. Justice Nandrajog said in his judgment.