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Official Communication Between Two Public Servants Without It Being Referred To Other Departments Not Defamation: Karnataka High Court

Mustafa Plumber
16 Jun 2022 6:15 AM GMT
Official Communication Between Two Public Servants Without It Being Referred To Other Departments Not Defamation: Karnataka High Court
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The Karnataka High Court has held that a pure official communication between two people, without it being referred to any other department or a quarter, cannot become the ingredient of Section 499 of the IPC.

A single judge bench Justice M Nagaprasanna allowed the petition filed by D. Roopa, presently working as Managing Director, Karnataka Handicraft Development Corporation and quashed the proceeding pending against her before the magistrate court on a complaint filed by former IPS officer HN Sathyanarayana Rao under sections 357, 499 and 500 of the IPC.

The bench said, "The admitted fact that no sanction is sought or granted by the Competent Authority to prosecute the petitioner for offences punishable under Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC and the fact that the communication being purely official between two people, the contents of it, in the considered view of this Court, would not attract the ingredients of Section 499 of the IPC, as it cannot be held to be defamatory."

Case details:

The petitioner was in 2017 posted as Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Prisons in the Department of Prisons, Government of Karnataka. The petitioner and the respondent were in the same department and the petitioner was an officer of a rank below to that of the respondent. On 12.07.2017 the allegation is that the petitioner had made a defamatory statement on the respondent by way of written words published in the media and had thereby committed offences punishable under Sections 357, 499 and 500 of the IPC.

The contention of the respondent is that by the said words, the petitioner had tarnished the image of the respondent by giving wide publicity of the report which was communicated by the petitioner to the Head of the Department.

The respondent registered a complaint invoking Section 200 of the Cr.P.C. The Magistrate took cognizance of the matter and directed registration of criminal cases against the petitioner and also issued summons against the accused/petitioner.

Petitioners submissions:

Advocate Madhukar Deshpande submitted since the allegation that is made is performed during the course of conduct of official duty, sanction under Section 197 of the CPC is mandatory. Admittedly, there was no sanction in the case accorded to prosecute the petitioner and therefore, the entire proceedings would stand vitiated.

Further, the ingredients that are required to drive home Section 499 of the IPC are totally absent in the case at hand as the petitioner has communicated to the Head of the Department in the official capacity and there is no evidence that the petitioner has communicated the same to the media both visual and print. Official communication of true facts or events cannot mean that they would be defamation of any officer much less the respondent.

Respondents submissions:

Senior Advocate Puttige R.Ramesh said the petitioner was, on the date of lodging of the complaint, holding a different post and, therefore, no sanction is required to prosecute the petitioner.

Moreover, the incident that has led to the alleged defamation is not referable to any public work that was discharged by the petitioner and, therefore, protection under Section 199(2) of the Cr.P.C. is not available. Further, the communication is sent by the petitioner to the head of the Department as also to both print and visual media and as such, it is a matter of trial for the petitioner to come out clean in the proceedings.

Court findings:

The bench noted it cannot be in dispute that the report communicated by the petitioner to the respondent was in the official capacity. The narration in the report is a blend of inspection taken up by the petitioner from time to time in the official capacity. Therefore, the entire act revolves around the official duties and on the official capacity of the petitioner.

It opined, "If any act being done by a public servant in the official capacity is to be alleged to have a colour of crime and criminal law is to be set in motion, on such allegations sanction for setting such criminal law in motion in terms of Section 197 is imperative."

It added, "The Court has taken cognizance of the offence against the petitioner for offences punishable under Sections 357, 499 and 500 of the IPC. Without doubt, they are offences punishable under the Code and the Court could not have taken cognizance without an order of sanction from the hands of the Competent Authority being placed before the Court. There could have been no question of further proceedings being taken up without an order of sanction."

The bench also rejected the contention of the respondent that sanction was not required as the petitioner was not in the same post. It said, "Leaving the post cannot be equated with leaving the service. Change of post will not mean that the petitioner has ceased to be a public servant. The petitioner continues to be a public servant in any post in the cadre and the act performed by a public servant during any time in service if sought to be given a colour of crime by wanting to set the criminal law in motion, in some cases even after retirement, sanction under Section 197 of the Cr.P.C. is imperative."

Further the bench noted that Section 499 of the IPC clearly mandates that one who makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person with an intention to harm is said to defame the said person, except the issues covered under the exceptions.

It said, "Therefore, making or publishing is the nucleus of the section. The words makes or publishes if considered qua the impugned communication, it becomes clear that even if it is made, it is not published to any quarter by the petitioner. Making of the communication is also restricted to the reporting of the outcome of the inspection and between two people. It is, on its perusal, a pure official communication between two people as to what was happening in the prison during the inspection that was conducted."

It then held, "The fact that the communication being purely official between two people, the contents of it, in the considered view of this Court, would not attract the ingredients of Section 499 of the IPC, as it cannot be held to be defamatory."

Accordingly, it allowed the petition and quashed the proceedings.

Case Title: D.ROOPA v H.N.SATHYANARAYANA RAO

Case No: CRIMINAL PETITION NO.72 OF 2022

Citation; 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 211

Date of Order: 06TH DAY OF JUNE, 2022

Appearance: Advocate MADHUKAR DESHPANDE for petitioner; Senior Advocate Puttige R Ramesh a/w Advocate Latha Ramesh for respondent

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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