Top
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.
Top Stories

Can Anyone Write Anything To Destroy Some One's Reputation?: Delhi High Court To Saket Gokhale In Defamation Suit By Lakshmi Puri

Shreya Agarwal
8 July 2021 8:36 AM GMT
Can Anyone Write Anything To Destroy Some Ones Reputation?: Delhi High Court To Saket Gokhale In Defamation Suit By Lakshmi Puri
x

The Delhi High Court today lashed out at RTI activist Saket Gokhale for allegedly defamatory tweets against the former Indian Assistant Secretary General at the UN, Lakshmi Puri, noting that Gokhale of his own admission had not approached any authorities before putting out the tweets.The tweets in question allegedly not only raised queries about Puri and her husband's sources of income, they...

Your free access to Live Law has expired
To read the article, get a premium account.
    Your Subscription Supports Independent Journalism
Subscription starts from
599+GST
(For 6 Months)
Premium account gives you:
  • Unlimited access to Live Law Archives, Weekly/Monthly Digest, Exclusive Notifications, Comments.
  • Reading experience of Ad Free Version, Petition Copies, Judgement/Order Copies.
Already a subscriber?

The Delhi High Court today lashed out at RTI activist Saket Gokhale for allegedly defamatory tweets against the former Indian Assistant Secretary General at the UN, Lakshmi Puri, noting that Gokhale of his own admission had not approached any authorities before putting out the tweets.

The tweets in question allegedly not only raised queries about Puri and her husband's sources of income, they also referred to her as a "thief" and a "black money hoarder".
Remarking that the right to reputation is a protected fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the court said that while it was not in the least questioning Gokhale or any citizen's right to public comment on a public servant or retired public servant's sources of income, the law did not permit any person aggrieved by a retired public servant's or officer's declaration of assets to publish allegations without seeking any clarification from the person or approaching the authorities.
Adv. Naved appearing for Gokhale, on being questioned about the same, stated to the Court, "Unfortunately, that is the law." However, the court stated in its order that Gokhale's counsel had failed to produce any judgments to that effect, and merely said that "that is his understanding of the law."
Proceeding to ask Adv. Naved if his client was ready to remove the alleged defamatory tweets, the court recorded in its order that that his instructions were in the negative.
Noting thus, the court reserved orders for Monday.
Puri was represented by Senior Advocate Maninder Singh.
Courtroom Exchange
Senior Advocate Singh shared information on asset and income declaration by Puri and her husband.
Referring to tweets by Gokhale, Singh argued that this was a case of ex facie per se defamation as Gokhale had allegedly put out false, defamatory information about Puri and her husband with no verification of records. Reading out tweets by Gokhale, Singh said that Gokhale had mentioned that in 2006 Ambassador Lakshmi Puri was on deputation and questioned how with an annual income of Rs. 10.5 lakhs, she had purchased a property of Rs.1.5 cr.
Singh's case was that the property was purchased on loan, and the loan amount was duly declared as per the Rules.
"The affidavit we (Puri and her husband) filed about our assets is in the public domain," Singh submitted. Adding that it was a case of per se defamation as Gokhale had referred to Prime Minister Modi's statements about bringing back black money and then tweeted that Puri had got black money, that had to be recovered.
"I've been said to be a "chor, lootera". He says, "Shame on Lakshmi Puri, looteri, thief, black money hoarder." The same day hundreds of comments have come. How do you defend such a position? People who have served with utmost integrity, if this is what they face, then the only savior is the court. It becomes the burden of the court to save the character and honor of the person. These nonsensical allegations by those who have no stake, no accountability need to be addressed," Singh argued.
Singh also alleged that when Puri served Gokhale a legal notice with respect to the allegedly defamatory tweets, instead of replying to the same he had infact begun to cry foul, saying he wasn't going to "get intimidated."
Singh stated, "First of all, I am not a public servant anymore. I have already served and done whatever I could. Secondly, who is he to question? Thirdly, forget any other law, it is the requirement of basic civility that if you're going to write about me, ask me first what my stand is."
Singh has prayed for the defamatory material to not be shared, stored or circulated any further and for the allegedly defamatory tweets to be taken down. The latter has been refused by Gokhale, upon questioning by the court.
Adv Sarim Naved for Saket Gokhale, on the other hand, argued that it was his fundamental right as a citizen under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution to raise questions about the assets of a public servant and his family.
To this the court replied, "Mr. Naved, public comment has a limit."
Naved said, "The law is that assets of a public servant and their spouse is a matter of public comment."
The court asked if this meant that "any Tom, Dick and Harry can write anything, anytime on the internet to destroy someone's reputation and the law has no place to restrict this?"
Upon Naved's allegation that they have not disclosed all details of their loan amount, and had only disclosed an amount of Rs. 2.75 cr, the court remarked that as per the records, this was the correct amount, and asked, "Mr. Naved, which is correct? Have you bothered to see Pg. 186 of the petition? Their income is Rs. 11 lakhs and they have got a loan to buy property, disclosed correct amount, how is this illegal?"
The court added that there was a machinery in place to raise grievances about non-disclosure or incorrect disclosure by retired or serving public servants about their and their spouse's financial assets.
It said, "If you have to raise issue please go to the Election Commission and follow due diligence and procedure."
On Naved's argument that Gokhale is a citizen, the court enquired, "What does that mean? That you can damage anyone's reputation? Reputation is a fundamental right u/A.21."
The court then told Naved, "If it is your case that you need not do any verification before you vilify anyone on the internet, then you please show me the law."
On Naved's citing a judgment that voters have a right to know the financial position of public servants, the court said that it was in no way suggesting that this was not a right of citizens and added that suggesting so would infact be "preposterous".
However, it asked,
"My question is that do you have a right to make such remarks against any public servant without them being proven guilty of anything? You said there is a law. Please show me the law."
Naved conceded, "I don't have any law to that effect. To my knowledge there isn't any such law. I only went through the sources of income and if the court thinks I should've approached the ECI.."
The court then asked, "Did you approach any authority before posting these things on Twitter? Since your client is such a socially conscious citizen, please tell me that if any citizen has a grievance with a public servant and issues of disclosure, is there any machinery you can avail of in the country?"
Naved replied in the negative for the former and positive for the latter.
After hearing both sides at length, and asking Gokhale if he would remove the tweets, which he refused, the court then reserved orders for Monday.
Read full updates here.
Next Story
Share it