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 PM Modi Degree Defamation Case : Gujarat HC Dismisses Arvind Kejriwal & Sanjay Singh's Pleas Challenging Summons
Feb 16, 2024 01:57 pm

 The Gujarat High Court today DISMISSED pleas filed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party's Rajyasabha MP Sanjay Singh challenging a Sessions Court order affirming summons issued against them by a Magistrate Court in a defamation case filed by Gujarat University concerning Prime Minister Narendra Modi's education Degree. A bench of Justice Hasmukh D. Suthar had reserved its orders in the pleas after hearing both sides on February 2.The duo had moved the HC in September last year 4 days after a Sessions Court in Gujarat's Ahmedabad dismissed a revision application of the duo. The appeal also raises the issue of the complaint having a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  The duo had moved the HC in September last year 4 days after a Sessions Court in Gujarat's Ahmedabad dismissed a revision application of the duo. The appeal also raises the issue of the complaint having a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech and expression. It may be noted that the alleged comments (reproduced in the later part of this article) were made by Kejriwal at a press conference on April 1, 2023, and Singh allegedly made the utterances at a second press conference conducted on April 2, 2023. Thereafter, the Gujarat University filed a criminal defamation complaint against them before a magistrate court in Ahmedabad. In the criminal complaint filed by Gujarat University, through its Registrar Dr Piyush M.Patel under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, the alleged statements of Kejriwal and Singh have been referred to, accusing them of making sarcastic and defamatory statements in press conferences and on Twitter handles targeting the university over Modi's degree. They were issued a summons to appear before the court. In their appeal before the HC, Kejriwal argued that the alleged defamatory comments were made by him in a press conference wherein he had raised an important issue about the degree of the Prime Minister of India and that by doing so, he had discharged his duty of awakening the people of India by stating that the great nation India deserves educated and qualified persons to hold the constitutional post including the Prime Minister of India and hence, the said statements can not amount to defamation. His appeal further argued that a bare perusal of the alleged statements would not attract any ingredient of Section 499 IPC, warranting initiation and continuance of trial against him as he had made simple, innocuous and straightforward statements made during the political discourse to awaken the people of India. The appeal strongly argued that neither the alleged act of convening the Press Conference nor the alleged act of seeking the degree of the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India could be classified as a defamatory statement. It was also contended in his plea that the Court grossly erred in passing the impugned summoning orders as it failed to note that only the person 'aggrieved has the locus to initiate and institute a defamation case and in the present case, the Gujarat Univeristy, which happens to be an instrumentality of the state, cannot be said to be an aggrieved person. The appeal added that a Government institution can not file and maintain a criminal defamation complaint and even if it is not considered as a state, then the complaint can't be maintained as the University is an unidentifiable and Indeterminate body and cannot be considered as a class under Section 499 IPC. The appeal also submitted that no proper enquiry u/S. 202 CrPC was conducted before the Court to show as to how the Respondent is defamed in the estimation of others and that the witnesses produced during the said inquiry were the employees of the Gujarat University itself. Lastly, the appeal contended that since the complaint has been filed against Petitioner as a Chief Minister of NCT of Delhi, hence, it was mandatory to obtain a sanction u/s 197 CrPC and that the summoning order erroneously presumes and records that Gujarat University is Petitioner's opponent. Last month, the Supreme Court stayed the criminal defamation proceedings against Kejriwal and Singh. Refusing to entertain Singh's plea to transfer the case out of Gujarat at the present stage, the Bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta left the question of granting interim relief to be considered by the Gujarat High Court within 4 weeks. Till such time, the defamation case before the trial Court had been stayed.A metropolitan court in Ahmedabad had earlier summoned the duo (Kejriwal and Singh) to face trial in the defamation case filed by the Gujarat University over their (Kejriwal & Singh) alleged derogatory statements Thereafter, they moved the City Civil & Sessions Court Ahmedabad to stay the trial in the case pending the disposal of their revision plea. This plea was rejected last month. Challenging this order, Kejriwal and Singh moved the HC, wherein they were denied any interim relief. Thereafter, they even failed to get any relief from the Supreme Court and instead, they were asked by the Top Court to raise their grievances before the HC in their pending petition. On August 29, the Gujarat HC Court directed the Principal Sessions City Civil Court Ahmedabad to transfer the revision plea to a different court and further ordered the Court to decide the matter within 10 days. The case against Kejriwal and Singh In the criminal complaint filed by Gujarat University, the following statements have been objected to and have been termed as defamatory:The complaint states that the alleged statement was made right after the Gujarat High Court's order of quashing and setting aside the 2016 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Gujarat University to provide "information regarding degrees in the name of Mr Narendra Damodar Modi" to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The Complaint further states that immediately after the Gujarat High Court's order, Kejriwal made defamatory statements against Gujarat University in a press conference despite being aware of the fact that the Prime Minister's degree had been published on the University's website long back. Notably, the university has also contended in its complaint that CM Kejriwal made the statements in his "personal capacity" and "not affairs of the State". In April this year, the additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Jayeshbhai Chovatiya found that prima facie, both Kejriwal and Singh appeared to have targeted the Gujarat University as the words uttered by them were sarcastic and meant to target the Gujarat University's image in the minds of the people. "It is natural that due to the statements of the accused people who know the credit of Gujarat University and all the people who do not know Gujarat University will develop distrust towards Gujarat University," the Court observed. The Court also opined that if the political office bearers, instead of fulfilling their duty to their people, do any work directly or indirectly for their personal enmity or selfishness, to harm the opponents or the same person, and if they utter any such words, those words will be considered a violation of the trust placed by the people and the words uttered will be considered personal. It is in that order that the Court directed their personal presence before the Court by issuing them summons.