Mahua Moitra Entitled To Defend Herself Against Jai Anant Dehadrai's Public Allegations Against Her: Delhi High Court

Nupur Thapliyal

8 April 2024 11:06 AM GMT

  • Mahua Moitra Entitled To Defend Herself Against Jai Anant Dehadrais Public Allegations Against Her: Delhi High Court

    The Delhi High Court on Monday remarked that Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra is entitled to defend herself in the public domain when allegations are made against her by lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai in the public domain.Justice Prateek Jalan was hearing Dehadrai's defamation suit alleging that Moitra made defamatory statements against him on social media as well as print and electronic...

    The Delhi High Court on Monday remarked that Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra is entitled to defend herself in the public domain when allegations are made against her by lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai in the public domain.

    Justice Prateek Jalan was hearing Dehadrai's defamation suit alleging that Moitra made defamatory statements against him on social media as well as print and electronic media.

    “When I analyze whether to pass a restraint order, I will have to take into account whether the allegations have been made by you in public domain. If so, then I can't really restrain her from making her defence in the public domain. I have to balance the scope of that injunction, if any, to make sure she has the right to respond to whatever you say in public domain,” Justice Jalan orally told Dehadrai's counsel, Advocate Raghav Awasthi.

    Awasthi submitted that Dehadrai has made public statements in relation to his complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation and Delhi Police as well as findings of the Parliament Ethics Committee and findings of the Lokpal of India against Moitra in relation to the cash for query allegations.

    The court said that the issues involved in the matter are not issues of fact but are issues of perception, as it is normal that after breaking up, the people involved think that the other person was wrong.

    “We will have to leave the scope for her to defend herself in public domain with respect to her contentions about your motivations. She does not have to just accept the position without giving her any ability to respond to the allegations. One, whatever she is saying must be factual and cannot be contrary to facts. Two, it will have to be assessed at trial whether it cause you any defamation or reputation loss to you,” the court said.

    Awasthi referred to words like “lunatic”, “supreme court lawyer”, “jilted” etc. used by Moitra against Dehadrai.

    He relied on the recent judgment of a coordinate bench in Arvind Kejriwal's case wherein it was held that if a public figure with millions of followers retweets any defamatory content, the impact on the aggrieved person's reputation and his character will be much greater.

    Awasthi contended that Moitra, being a former MP, has a higher standing with millions of followers on social media and thus, she cannot be equated with a “normal ex.”

    The court said that while it is right that public figures are expected to have thicker skin; in the context of passing any injunction order, even such public figures have the right to protection of reputation.

    Awasthi responded that Moitra may have the scope to defend herself but while doing so, she cannot do something manifestly defamatory against Dehadrai.

    He referred to Moitra's interviews with the media, including one with journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, and said that she herself said that she gave her login details to businessman Darshan Hiranandani and that he gave her expensive gifts.

    “She is allowed to say.…. If there was an acrimonious personal relationship which according to her motivated you to make allegations against her. Why should a person not be entitled to say in public domain that the allegations made against me in public domain is motivated by xyz reasons?,” the court said.

    As Awasthi said that Dehadrai made allegations to the statutory authorities and not the press, the court remarked:

    “We are naive but not that naive. I am telling you, we know how these matters are conducted. You made a complaint to CBI. It is possible to tell the journalists that I made complaint to the CBI. Even if we assume that it was at the instance of those journalists, and not by you, the fact is that you accepted their invitation to put your allegations in public domain.”

    Justice Jalan further said that the Ethics Committee is not a judicial proceeding and that the correctness of its findings is not binding on the court. He added that it is for the court to decide if the allegations are proven or not.

    “Allegations made against you do not impute any stand, one way or the other, as to the correctness of the allegations which you've made against her,” the court told Awasthi.

    Justice Jalan added: “She could have taken whatever defence she wanted to. At this stage, as I see ot, she would have to defend herself in public domain if your allegations are made in public domain also…. If you choose to publicize (the allegations) then she also has to defend them. She is entitled to say that you're making allegations because you're in xyz position. But the correctness of allegations has to he determined at trial.“

    Awasthi responded that there is a “power gap” between Moitra and Dehadrai and that where the power difference is greater, the case has to be considered as per the judgment of Arvind Kejriwal case.

    Justice Jalan then said that the latest judgment of the Supreme Court in the Bloomberg case makes the position clear that in general, restraints on publication will arise if it is found that something is palpably false.

    “We limit ourselves to that category of cases. If she does not take the defence of justification then that is different,” the court said.

    The judge further added that both Dehadrai and Moitra have brought public discourse to a fairly low level.

    Advocate Samudra Sarangi appeared for Moitra and said that Moitra intends to take the defence of justification and fair comment with regard to the allegedly defamatory allegations.

    He submitted that he would demonstrate the prima facie validity of Moitra's defence on the filing of relevant documents on record.

    The interim injunction application will now be heard on April 25.

    The defendants in the suit are Moitra, five media houses (CNN News 18, India Today, Gulf News, The Telegraph and The Guardian) as well as social media platforms X (formerly Twitter) and Google LLC.

    Dehadrai has sought Rs. 2 crores in damages from Moitra. He has alleged that Moitra has called her “jobless” and “jilted.”

    The suit also seeks to restrain Moitra from publishing any allegedly defamatory material against Dehadrai on social media.

    A direction is sought upon the media houses and social media platforms to take down the defamatory content from the internet and social media platforms against Dehadrai.

    It is Dehadrai's case that the only reason for filing the complaint against Moitra was a concern to report an incident, which according to him, was a “serious breach of national security” and “instances of corruption” by someone who occupied a high office and was a public servant.

    However, as per the suit, Moitra portrayed Dehadrai to be a “revengeful ex-partner” who wanted to settle scores with her for an unsuccessful relationship.

    Dehadrai has alleged that Moitra's statements have lowered his esteem in the eyes of his family members, friends and colleagues in the legal profession.

    The suit states that many of Dehadrai's existing and prospective clients are calling him and telling him that they do not want him to continue as their lawyer as he is a “revengeful person” who has defamed his ex-partner only with a view to settle scores over a bitter past relationship.

    About the controversy

    49-year-old Moitra was expelled as a Lok Sabha MP on December 08 last year, following the Ethics panel's determination of her guilt in connection with the “cash for query” allegations.

    Moitra has been accused of receiving cash in exchange for posing questions on behalf of businessman and friend Darshan Hiranandani. In an interview with The Indian Express, she had accepted the fact that she had provided her Parliament login and password details to Hiranandani, however, she had refuted the claim of receiving any cash from him.

    Before her expulsion last year, Moitra filed a defamation suit against Dehadrai and BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. Recently, a coordinate bench denied interim relief to her by dismissing her plea for an interim injunction.

    The court had refused to restrain Dubey and Dehadrai from posting allegedly defamatory content against Moitra on social media.

    The court had observed that prima facie, it cannot be said that the allegations in the communications addressed by Dubey and Dehadrai against Moitra are false, unsubstantiated or made with reckless disregard towards the truth.

    The dispute arose after Dubey wrote a complaint to the Lok Sabha Speaker alleging that Moitra purportedly took bribes to ask questions in the Parliament. Dubey claimed that the genesis of the said allegations was a letter addressed to him by Dehadrai.

    Moitra then sent a legal notice to Dubey, Dehadrai and media houses wherein she denied the allegations made against her.


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