Protection to public servants upheld

Calling public servants a “different class”, the Supreme Court on Friday upheld the validity of a provision in the Cr.PC allowing them to file a complaint in a sessions court through a public prosecutor for alleged defamatory comments on their official acts.

In a judgment upholding the constitutional validity of criminal defamation, a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant rejected demands to strike down Section 199(2) to (4) of the Cr.PC. The court rejected the argument that this section creates a separate class. It also dismissed the contention that the classification enumerated in this provision has no rationale and does not bear constitutional scrutiny.

‘Differential treatment’

“Differential treatment granted to them is an unacceptable discrimination,” senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan had argued.

“A studied scrutiny of the provision makes it clear that a public servant is entitled to file a complaint through the public prosecutor in respect of his conduct in discharge of public functions. Public functions stand on a different footing…The provision gives them protection for their official acts. There cannot be defamatory attacks on them because of discharge of their due functions. In that sense, they constitute a different class,” the apex court held.

Endorsing a public servant’s right to use the State machinery to fight a defamation case against another citizen, the apex court reasoned, “one is bound to tolerate criticism, dissent and discordance but not expected to tolerate defamatory attack.”

The court said this right of a public servant to file a defamation complaint is over and above his or her right under Section 199 (6) to personally file a complaint before a Magistrate. “Sub-section (6) gives to a public servant what every citizen has as he cannot be deprived of a right of a citizen. There can be cases where sanction may not be given by the State Government in favour of a public servant to protect his right and, in that event, he can file a case before the Magistrate,” Justice Misra said.

To objections raised that the vague terminology used in Section 199 that any “person aggrieved” can file a defamation complaint would open the flood-gates for frivolous litigation, the court merely said that this would be determined by courts in each case according to “fact situation.”

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 11:51:03 AM |

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