HC directs Smita Sabharwal to refund ₹ 15 lakh

Smita Sabharwal | Photo Credit: File photo

Telangana High Court had directed IAS officer and Chief Minister’s Secretary Smita Sabharwal to refund ₹ 15 lakh she was granted by the State government for filing a defamation suit against a magazine, observing that the ‘grant was not for any public purpose’.

A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Abhinand Kumar, delivering verdict in two PIL pleas and a writ petition on the matter, said the IAS officer should return the money to the government within 90 days. “If the amount is not refunded within 90 days of the order, the same should be recovered from Ms. Smita Sabharwal within a month thereafter,” the judgement said.

Nearly seven years ago, the IAS officer (then additional secretary to CM) appeared on the ramp along with her husband Akun Sabharwal (an IPS officer) during a fashion show organised by fashion designer Abhishek Dutta. A weekly English magazine, published an article with the heading ‘No boring Babu’. Certain comments were made in the article on the IAS officer and the CM.

Ms. Smita Sabharwal requested the State government to sanction ₹ 15 lakh to file the civil suit as ₹ 9.75 lakh was required to pay court fee. The State issued a GO (Routine) No. 2296 on August 20, 2015 sanctioning ₹ 15 lakh to the officer. The IAS officer filed a civil suit of defamation against the magazine seeking ₹ 10 crore compensation before 25th Additional Chief Judge of Hyderabad Civil Court in 2016. The suit was eventually dismissed five years later.

Meanwhile, two citizens filed PIL petitions challenging the release of public money to an IAS officer to file a suit in a matter arising out of her participation in a private event. The magazine too filed a writ petition challenging issuance of the GO. The basic question in these three pleas was ‘whether the State government can sponsor a person to file a suit which is in respect of a defamation for an event which is not arising out of discharge of his/her official duties’, the bench observed in the verdict.

The bench noted that the grant made in the case of the IAS officer to file a suit for defamation was “certainly not a grant made in public purpose”. The verdict said that filing a case by an individual in his private capacity against another private entity “can never be said to be for the public purpose”. This was not a case where the State of Telangana has taken action against the magazine.

No comment was made in the magazine’s article against the IAS officer with regard to discharge of official duties by her. Hence, the sanction of money by the State of Telangana can never be said to be the sanction made in respect of any public purpose’, the judgement said.

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Printable version | May 3, 2022 12:17:35 am |