AROON PURIE versus STATE OF NCT OF DELHI & ORS.

AROON PURIE versus STATE OF NCT OF DELHI & ORS.

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले



1
Reportable
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS……………….. OF 2022
(arising out of SLP (Crl.) Nos.5115-5118 OF 2021)
AROON PURIE …..APPELLANT(S)
versus
STATE OF NCT OF DELHI & ORS. …..RESPONDENT(S)
WITH
CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS………..……….. OF 2022
(arising out of SLP (Crl.) No.5258-5261/2021)
CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS………..……….. OF 2022
(arising out of SLP (Crl.) Nos.6392-6394/2021)
J U D G M E N T
Uday Umesh Lalit, CJI
1. Leave granted.
2. These appeals challenge the common judgment and order
dated 07.04.2021 passed by the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi
in Criminal M.C. Nos. 3492 of 2013, 4636 of 2013 and 1762 of
2
2014 filed by Mr. Aroon Purie; Mr. Parampreet Singh Randhawa &
Ors.; and Mr. Saurabh Shukla, respectively.
3. A news item1 titled ‘Mission Misconduct’ was published in the
news magazine INDIA TODAY (for the period of 23.04.2007 to
30.04.2007) stating that in a string of embarrassments for the
foreign office, three Indian Officials posted in the Indian High
Commission at UK had to be recalled in quick succession following
serious allegations of sexual misconduct, corruption in issuance
of visas and sale of Indian passports to illegal immigrants. The
Article also mentioned that the allegations were levelled against an
officer of the Indian Foreign Service posted in UK for soliciting
sexual favours from a local employee. The Article further stated
that said officer, now back in India, was facing disciplinary action
and when contacted said official denied the charges.
4. It appears that original accused No.12 whose identity is not
being disclosed, was working as a ‘Clerk Typist’ in the Consulate
General of India, Edinburgh and she had filed a complaint before
the Consel General alleging sexual harassment at the hands of
said officer. The complaint was made on 10.07.2006 (wrongly
mentioned as 10.07.2005 in certain documents placed on record).
1
“the Article” for short.
3
This was followed by another communication dated 05.03.2007 to
the Deputy High Commissioner, High Commission of India,
London alleging continued sexual harassment at work place at the
instance of said officer. The record shows that the Ministry of
External Affairs by the order dated 08.03.2007 directed that said
officer be recalled and that said officer be placed under
suspension. On 15.03.2007 the complaint filed by accused No.12
was forwarded to the Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs,
which issued an order on 21.03.2007 stating that disciplinary
proceedings were contemplated against said officer and that said
officer was placed under suspension. These developments were
prior to the publication of the Article.

5. Some of the developments which have occurred after the
publication of the Article included issuance of a memorandum
dated 21.05.2007 by the Ministry of External Affairs on the basis
of the complaint of accused No.12 by which explanation was
sought as to why disciplinary action should not be initiated against
said officer “for sexual harassment of a woman at work place”.
Response was filed by said officer on 31.05.2007 and finally by
order dated 19.02.2009, disciplinary authority passed an order
4
imposing cut of 20% in pension allowable to said officer on
permanent basis. The order of the disciplinary authority was
upheld by the Central Administrative Tribunal on 02.03.2010 and
also by the High Court vide order dated 26.07.2011.
6. In the meantime, on 24.03.2010, Complaint No. 584/1/2010
was filed by said officer against various persons including
Mr. Aroon Purie (A-1), Mr. Saurabh Shukla (A-2), Mr. Parampreet
Singh Randhawa (A-3), Mr. Sharat Sabharwal (A-4), Mr. Ashok
Kumar Mukherji (A-8) and other accused. It was submitted inter
alia that the Article was defamatory and as such the accused be
proceeded against for having committed offences punishable
under various sections including Sections 34, 120 B, 405, 468,
470, 471, 499, 501 and 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 18602. Some
of the averments made in the complaint were as under:
“… Accused No. 01 herein, Mr. Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief of
the newsmagazine titled INDIA TODAY published by the
corporate entity titled “LIVING MEDIA INDIA LTD” with its
registered office at “1-A HAMILTON HOUSE, CONNUGHT
PLACE, NEW DELHI 110001” for printing and publishing, in its
printed issue dated 30/04/2007, a false story of sexual
harassment against the Complainant, a senior-level officer of the
Ministry of External Affairs (now retired), based on
unsubstantiated, unverified, fabricated and malicious
information, having been written and filed by the said
Newsmagazine’s Correspondent Mr. Saurabh Shukla, Accused
No. 02 herein, in complicity with and at the behest of Accused
2
“IPC”, for short.
5
Nos. 03 to 12, named hereunder, as well as splashing the false
and defamatory story all over the world through the misuse of
the internet, and the World electronic network, as defined in the
law of information technology, with the permanent availability,
till date, of the scandalous/defamatory material on the Internet
vide its website www.indiatoday.com causing complainant’s
defamation, grave loss and injury of his personal and social
reputation, mental torture, agony, pain and a steep deterioration
of his health.
03. That this complaint is limited to the totally false, fabricated,
unsubstantiated unverified, malicious and defamatory story
written and filed by Mr. Saurabh Shukla, Accused No. 2, the
correspondent of the weekly newsmagazine titled INDIA TODAY,
whose reports, writings and activities are under the control and
supervision of Mr.Aroon Purie, Accused No. 1, the Editor-inChief of the news magazine INDIA TODAY, who exercised full
control on the selection of the said defamatory story in the
newsmagazine INDIA TODAY’S issue dated 30th April, 2007,
contents of which were read world wide and were also splashed
on the internet vide website www.indiatoday.com. The
defamatory story is still continuing as part of the archives of the
said website www.indiatoday.com and, thus, the defamation of
the complainant and the damage and loss caused to his
reputation is continuing till the date of lodging this report for
action against the offenders and the guilty.
*** *** ***
06. That it is clear from the facts narrated in the 20-page
enclosure to this complaint that the defamatory publication was
the handiwork of Accused nos. 03 to 12, acting with common
intention, to brief the correspondent. Accused No. 02, Mr.
Saurabh Shukla, of the newsmagazine INDIA TODAY about the
false complaint of sexual harassment by Accused No. 12, a local
employee of the Consulate General of India at Edinburgh to
defame the applicant through the media and the criminal role
played by each of them, at the relevant time, warrants a
thorough investigation by the law enforcement agency for
appropriate action as may be deemed fit and proper within the
parameters of law as laid down in the Code of Criminal
Procedure, and, once the charges against them are framed, in
terms of the appropriate sections of the Indian Penal Code.
*** *** ***
15. That for their criminal acts of omission and commission,
the high-ranking officers and middle-level officials allowed
themselves to be misused and through the common intention of
harming and defaming the applicant through leaking the false,
fabricated and cooked up information in the media – vide the
published article in the weekly newsmagazine INDIA TODAY
6
dated 30/04/2007 and its splashing through internet through
their website www.indiatoday.com the false and
unsubstantiated allegation of sexual harassment against the
complainant even before any show cause notice was issued to
the complainant by the Ministry of External Affairs and thus
caused the Complainant grave loss of reputation and
defamation.
The complainant then prayed for reliefs as follows:
“(1) To take cognizance of the offences committed and
admit this complaint against accused persons arrayed as
Accused Nos. 01 to 12 in this complaint, record the statements
of the witnesses whose names and statuses are listed in the
enclosures and summon the accused persons, who may be put
on trial and punished in accordance with law;
(2) To invoke its powers under Section 156(3) of the Code
of Criminal Procedure and order investigation by police
authorities, who has the necessary infrastructure for this
purpose, under Sections 34, 120B, 405, 468, 470, 471, 499,
SOU S 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and under Sections
65, 66 and 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 against
the accused for initiation [sic] of criminal proceedings and trial
before this Hon’ble Court;”
7. The role ascribed to each of the accused was summed up by
Metropolitan Magistrate, New Delhi District, Patiala House Court,
New Delhi vide order dated 20.04.2013 as under:
“9. Ld. Counsel for the complainant has further submitted that
while accused No.1 and 2 are the Editor in Chief and
Correspondent of India Today who are directly responsible for
the publication of the defamatory story against the complainant.
The remaining accused persons i.e. accused No.3, 4, 8, 12 were
in conspiracy with accused No.1 and 2 and were instrumental
in the publication of the impugned story which was based on a
false complaint filed by accused No.12 in the office of Indian
High Commission at London. Ld. Counsel for the complainant
has argued that involvement of accused No.3,4,8,12 is
established from the fact that although the complainant had
been simply recalled from his then place of posting at Edinburgh
vide order dated 08.3.2007 and it had not been mentioned in the
7
said order that any complaint filed by accused No.12 against the
complainant was pending investigation or that said complaint
was he reason behind premature recall of complainant Om
Prakash Bhola. However, the news article dated 30.04.2007 had
mentioned that the complainant had been recalled from his
place of posting in Edinburgh due to pendency of a complaint of
sexual misconduct made against him by a local employee. It has
been argued on behalf of the complainant that although the
complainant was served with the show cause notice. That is
memorandum on 21.05.2007 by the Ministry of External Affair
whereby he had been asked to explain the allegations made
against him by accused No.12. However, the news report was
published prior to even the service of the said show cause notice
upon him. Therefore, the staff of India Today News Magazine
could not have had the knowledge about the pendency of the
complaint of A12 against the complainant even before the
service of show cause notice upon the complainant that is on
30.04.2007, the date of publication of alleged news report
although the complainant had been served with the show cause
notice to explain allegations of sexual misconduct made against
him by accused No.12 after a lapse of about 21 days from the
date of publication of the said news report i.e. on 21.5.2007.
8. The Metropolitan Magistrate found sufficient material to
proceed against Accused 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 12 for the commission of
offences punishable under Sections 500, 502 read with Section
120 B of the IPC. The operative part of the order was:
“After considering the materials placed on record by the
complainant and the arguments advanced by learned counsel
for complainant in the light of the aforecited observations made
by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the decided case of Balraj
Khanna & Ors. vs. Moti Ram 1971 SCC (Crl) 647, Smt.
Nagawwa vs. Veraana Shivallngappa Konjaligi & Ors. 1976
SCC (Crl) 507 and M.N. Damani, vs. S.K. Sinha and other 2001
Cr. L.J. 2571 SC, I am of the considered opinion that the
material on record is prime facie sufficient to proceed against
the accused number 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 12 be accordingly
summoned on filing of PF on 05.07.2013.
8
9. Being aggrieved by the aforestated summoning order, A-1,
Editor in Chief of INDIA TODAY news magazine, preferred Criminal
M.C. No. 3492 of 2019 while A-2, the author of the Article preferred
Criminal M.C. No.1762 of 2014 and public servants from the
Ministry of External Affairs preferred Criminal M.C. No.4636 of
2013; all under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
19733 seeking quashing of the summoning order dated 20.04.2013
as well as Complaint No.584/1/2010 filed by the officer in
question.
10. These three petitions were taken up together by the High
Court. After hearing learned counsel for the parties, the High
Court did not find any ground to interfere. It, therefore, dismissed
all the petitions. During the course of its judgment, the High Court
observed:
“28. The ingredients of section 499 IPC clearly point out towards
the imputation published in any form which also include
newspaper. In case the petitioner is seeking the protection of an
exception under Section 499 IPC that stage is yet to come,
meaning thereby the submissions made by the petitioners are not
applicable at this stage. The conduct of the petitioner, since was
allegedly responsible for selection of the articles for publication
and had knowledge of the fact the publication of an
unsubstantiated story will irreparably harm and damage the
reputation of the complainant/respondent No. 2, still went ahead
and got the article published as a chief editor on 30.04.2007. …
3
“the Code”, for short.
9
35. Thus, the allegations and counter allegations made by the
parties raise disputed question of facts and cannot be dwelled
into by this Court under Section 482 Cr.P.C.
36. At this stage we need to see only the contents of the
complaint. The evidence of the accused cannot be considered at
this stage.”
11. We have heard Mr. K.V. Viswanathan, learned senior counsel
for A-1, Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, learned Additional Solicitor General
of India appearing for public servants, namely; A-3, A-4 and A-8
and Mr. Hrishikesh Baruah, learned counsel for A-2; while the
submissions on behalf said officer i.e., the original complainant
were advanced by Mr. R. Sathish, learned counsel.
12. It is submitted by Mr. K.V. Viswanathan, learned senior
counsel that A-1 has been Editor-in-Chief of the news magazine
INDIA TODAY; that the presumption under Section 7 of the Press
and Registration of Books Act, 18674 would get attracted in case
of an Editor and not with respect to an Editor-in-Chief. It is further
submitted that in order to make A-1 liable for the Article, the
involvement of A-1 beyond the mere allegation about the capacity
held by him as Editor-in-Chief, had to be made with clarity. There
being no such allegation or averment, A-1 was entitled to the relief
as prayed for.
4
“1867 Act”, for short.
10
13. Ms. Bhati, learned Additional Solicitor General has submitted
that the public servants were not involved with the publication of
the Article at any stage. Whatever actions the public servants had
taken, were in the nature of due and prompt reporting of events to
the higher authorities, so that appropriate action could be taken
by such authorities. The acts committed by the public servants
would thus be fully protected and cannot amount to commission
of any offence.
14. Mr. Hrishikesh Baruah, learned counsel for A-2 has sought
to adopt the submissions of Mr. K.V. Viswanathan, learned senior
counsel appearing for A-1 and submitted that due care was taken
before writing the Article including asking said officer for his
response.
15. Mr. R. Sathish, learned counsel for said officer has submitted
that at best, the case pleaded by the appellants would be one
claiming benefit of any of the exceptions to Section 499, IPC and
as observed by the High Court, the proper stage to go into such
issues would be at the stage of trial and not through petition under
Section 482 of the Code.
11
16. In K.M. Mathew vs. K.A. Abraham & Ors.5, the appellant
in the lead matter was the Chief Editor of Malayalam Manorama.
Relying on Section 7 of the 1867 Act, it was contended on his
behalf that there being another person, who was an Editor of said
publication, said Editor alone could be charged for the offence
under Section 500 of the IPC in view of the statutory presumption
under Section 7 of the 1867 Act. The submission that because of
non-mentioning of “Chief Editor” in Section 7, said appellant would
be entitled to the relief, was rejected by this Court, observing, inter
alia, that the complainant had specifically alleged that said
appellant had knowledge of the publication and that he was
responsible for such publication. Paragraphs 8, 9, 10, 14, 15 and
16 of the decision are as under: -
“8. Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act,
1867 reads as follows:
“7. Office copy of declaration to be prima facie
evidence.—In any legal proceeding whatever, as well
civil as criminal, the production of a copy of such
declaration as is aforesaid, attested by the seal of
some court empowered by this Act to have the
custody of such declaration, or, in the case of the
editor, a copy of the newspaper containing his name
printed on it as that of the editor shall be held (unless
the contrary be proved) to be sufficient evidence, as
against the person whose name shall be subscribed
to such declaration, or printed on such newspaper,
as the case may be that the said person was printer
or publisher, or printer and publisher (according as
the words of the said declaration may be) of every
portion of every newspaper whereof the title shall
5
(2002) 6 SCC 670.
12
correspond with the title of the newspaper mentioned
in the declaration or the editor of every portion of that
issue of the newspaper of which a copy is produced.”
9. The expression “editor” has also been defined in Section
1 of the Act as under:
“1. (1) * * *
‘Editor’ means the person who controls the selection
of the matter that is published in a newspaper:”
10. It is also relevant to quote Section 5(1) of the Act:
“5. Rules as to publication of newspapers.—No newspaper
shall be published in India, except in conformity with the
rules hereinafter laid down:
(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of Section 3,
every copy of every such newspaper shall contain the
names of the owner and editor thereof printed clearly
on such copy and also the date of its publication:
(2) * * *”
xxx xxx xxx
14. A conjoint reading of these provisions will go to show
that in the case of publication of any newspaper, each copy
of the publication shall contain the names of the owner and
the editor who have printed and published that newspaper.
Under Section 7 of the Act, there is a presumption that the
editor whose name is printed in the newspaper as editor
shall be held to be the editor in any civil or criminal
proceedings in respect of that publication and the
production of a copy of the newspaper containing his name
printed thereon as editor shall be deemed to be sufficient
evidence to prove that fact, and as “editor” has been defined
as the person who controls the selection of the matter that
is published in a newspaper, the presumption would go to
the extent of holding that he was the person who controlled
the selection of the matter that was published in the
newspaper. But at the same time, this presumption
contained in Section 7 is a rebuttable presumption and it
will be deemed as sufficient evidence unless the contrary is
proved. Therefore, it is clear that even if a person’s name is
printed as editor in the newspaper, he can still show that
he was not really the editor and had no control over the
selection of the matter that was published in the newspaper.
Section 7 only enables the court to draw a presumption that
the person whose name was printed as editor was the editor
13
of such newspaper, if the publication produced in the court
shows to that effect.
15. The contention of the appellants in these cases is that
they had not been shown as Editors in these publications
and that their names were printed either as Chief Editor,
Managing Editor or Resident Editor and not as “Editor” and
there cannot be any criminal prosecution against them for
the alleged libellous publication of any matter in that
newspaper.
16. The contention of these appellants is not tenable. There
is no statutory immunity for the Managing Editor, Resident
Editor or Chief Editor against any prosecution for the
alleged publication of any matter in the newspaper over
which these persons exercise control. In all these cases, the
complainants have specifically alleged that these appellants
had knowledge of the publication of the alleged defamatory
matter and they were responsible for such publication; and
the Magistrates who had taken cognizance of the offence
held that there was prima facie case against these
appellants. It was under such circumstances that the
summonses were issued against these appellants.”
17. It is thus clear from this decision that though the
presumption under Section 7 is available with regard to the Editor,
even a Chief Editor can be proceeded against if the facts so justify.
In the concerned cases, there were specific and sufficient
allegations about the roles played by said Chief Editor and other
similarly situated persons from the connected matters.
18. We now turn to the question: whether the benefit of any of
the exceptions to Section 499 of the IPC can be availed of and on
the strength of such exceptions, the proceedings can be quashed
14
at the stage when an application moved under Section 482 of the
Code is considered?
19. In Jawaharlal Darda & Ors. Vs. Manoharrao Ganpatrao
Kapsikar & Anr.6, the reporting made by a newspaper about the
proceedings in the Legislative Assembly touching upon the issues
of misappropriation of Government funds meant for certain
projects, was the subject matter of complaint alleging defamation.
The decision shows that the article being accurate and true
reporting of the proceedings of the House, which was reported in
good faith in respect of conduct of public servants entrusted with
public funds intended to be used for public good, the protection
was extended and the power under Section 482 of the Code was
utilised. Paragraph 5 of the decision is as under: -
“5. It is quite apparent that what the accused had published
in its newspaper was an accurate and true report of the
proceedings of the Assembly. Involvement of the respondent
was disclosed by the preliminary enquiry made by the
Government. If the accused bona fide believing the version
of the Minister to be true published the report in good faith
it cannot be said that they intended to harm the reputation
of the complainant. It was a report in respect of public
conduct of public servants who were entrusted with public
funds intended to be used for public good. Thus the facts
and circumstances of the case disclose that the news items
were published for public good. All these aspects have been
overlooked by the High Court.”
6
(1998) 4 SCC 112.
15
20. Similarly, in Rajendra Kumar Sitaram Pande vs. Uttam7,
a reporting made to a superior officer alleging misconduct on the
part of complainant was taken to be completely protected by
exception 8 to Section 499 of the IPC and the proceedings were
quashed. The relevant portion from paragraph 7 of the reported
decision is as under: -
“7. … Under such circumstances the fact that the
accused persons had made a report to the superior officer
of the complainant alleging that he had abused the Treasury
Officer in a drunken state which is the gravamen of the
present complaint and nothing more, would be covered by
Exception 8 to Section 499 of the Penal Code, 1860. By
perusing the allegations made in the complaint petition, we
are also satisfied that no case of defamation has been made
out. In this view of the matter, requiring the accused
persons to face trial or even to approach the Magistrate
afresh for reconsideration of the question of issuance of
process would not be in the interest of justice. On the other
hand, in our considered opinion, this is a fit case for
quashing the order of issuance of process and the
proceedings itself. …”
21. It is thus clear that in a given case, if the facts so justify, the
benefit of an exception to Section 499 of the IPC has been extended
and it is not taken to be a rigid principle that the benefit of
exception can only be afforded at the stage of trial.
22. Similarly, the law laid down in K.M. Mathew8, which has
subsequently been followed, is to the effect that though the benefit
7
(1999) 3 SCC 134.
8
supra at footnote No.5.
16
of presumption under Section 7 of the 1867 Act is not applicable
so far as Chief Editors or Editors-in-Chief are concerned, the
matter would be required to be considered purely from the
perspective of the allegations made in the complaint. If the
allegations are sufficient and specific, no benefit can be extended
to such Chief Editor or Editor-in-Chief. Conversely, it would
logically follow that if there are no specific and sufficient
allegations, the matter would stand reinforced by reason of the fact
that no presumption can be invoked against such Chief Editor or
Editor-in-Chief.
23. In light of these principles, if we consider the assertions and
allegations made in the complaint, we find that nothing specific
has been attributed to A-1, Editor-in-Chief. He cannot, therefore,
be held liable for the acts committed by the author of the Article,
namely, A-2. The allegations made in the complaint completely fall
short of making out any case against A-1.
24. With regard to the role ascribed to A-2, it must be stated at
this stage that as an author of the Article his case stands on a
different footing. Whether what he did was an act which was
justified or not would be a question of fact to be gone into only at
the stage of trial.
17
25. Insofar as the public servants are concerned, they are not
primarily responsible for the Article and their responsibility, if at
all, is only to the extent that they either reported something
touching upon the complaint made by A-12 or in their capacity as
public servants, reported something to their seniors. Going by the
law laid down by this Court in Rajendra Kumar Sitaram Pande9,
their actions are completely protected.
26. In the circumstances, we accept the appeals insofar as A-1
and the public servants (A-3, A-4 and A-8) are concerned and set
aside the summoning order, as well as, quash Complaint
No.584/1/2010 lodged against them. We, however, reject the
appeal preferred by A-2.
Ordered accordingly.
……………………………..CJI.
[Uday Umesh Lalit]
………………………………..J.
[Bela M. Trivedi]
New Delhi;
October 31, 2022.
9
Supra at footnote No.7.

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