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Defamation Under Indian Law


The Supreme Court restrained a trial court from proceeding with a defamation case against Delhi Chief Minister for retweeting a YouTube video against the BJP’s IT cell.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Defamation under Indian Law
  2. Supreme Court Verdicts on Defamation and Free Speech
  3. Recent Case: Delhi CM’s Defamation Challenge

Defamation under Indian Law

Definition and Classification
  • Civil Defamation:
    • Can be libel (written) or slander (spoken), governed by tort law.
    • Results in financial compensation; damages computed based on probabilities.
  • Criminal Defamation (Section 499 IPC):
    • Involves making or publishing imputations intending to harm a person’s reputation.
    • Punishable with up to two years’ imprisonment or fine, or both (Section 500 IPC).

Supreme Court Verdicts on Defamation and Free Speech

Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India (2016):

  • Upheld constitutionality of IPC Sections 499 and 500.
  • Recognized the right to reputation under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Considered criminal defamation as a reasonable restriction on freedom of expression under Article 19(2).

Kaushal Kishore vs. Union of India (2017):

  • Ruled against imposing additional restrictions on free speech beyond those specified in Article 19(2).

Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India (2015):

  • Quashed Section 66A of the IT Act 2000, which criminalized sending offensive messages.
  • Found the provision ambiguous and violative of Article 19(1)(a), not saved under Article 19(2).
  • Protection of Reputation:
    • Civil and criminal defamation laws safeguard individuals’ reputations against false and harmful statements.
  • Balancing Freedom of Expression:
    • Courts balance the right to free speech with the need to protect individuals from defamation, considering constitutional provisions and precedents.
  • Legal Clarity and Ambiguity:
    • Supreme Court rulings aim to provide clarity on the scope and limitations of defamation laws, ensuring adherence to constitutional principles.

Recent Case: Delhi CM’s Defamation Challenge

  • Issue: Delhi CM challenged a Delhi HC order upholding summons in a criminal defamation case for retweeting an allegedly defamatory video in 2018.
  • HC Observation:
    • Retweeting defamatory content implies endorsement, attracting liability under Section 499 IPC.
    • CM’s wide social media following amplifies the reach, making retweet a form of public endorsement.
Supreme Court Ruling
  • Interpretation of Retweeting:
    • SC ruled that retweeting does not always imply endorsement.
    • Retweeting may not necessarily reflect the retweeter’s own views or endorsement of the content.

-Source: Indian Express

May 2024