The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the validity of the criminal defamation law. The court pronounced its verdict on a batch of petitions including the ones by Congress vice-president >Rahul Gandhi , Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy challenging the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code providing for criminal defamation.
As it happened:
>> The apex court gave eight weeks to petitioners Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Swamy to challenge pending criminal defamation cases in High Courts or face trial.
>> The law has no chilling effect on free speech, the apex court said. "Right to free speech is not absolute. It does not mean freedom to hurt another's reputation which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution".
>> The petitioners had argued that the criminal defamation under these sections of the IPC travelled beyond constitution’s article 19(2) that imposes reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression.
>> The central government had defended their retention on the grounds that while in other countries, defamation cases are decided very fast, in India it takes years even decades before they reach conclusion.
>> Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench in the course of the hearing on July 8, 2015, that unlike in Britain where such cases are decided very fast, in India, it takes 10 to 20 years to decide them.
>> The verdict was reserved on August 13, 2015, after the bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant heard the matter spread over a month. Mr. Rohatgi had said that there were sufficient safeguards in article 19(2) which imposed reasonable restrictions of the right to free expression and speech guaranteed under article 19.
The position was supported by amicus curiae T.R. Andhyarujina.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)