New Delhi/Chennai, Aug 24 (IANS) Stressing state machinery could not be used against critics, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that criticism of public policy could not be a ground for a defamation suit as it issued fresh notice to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on a plea alleging abuse of power by her.
Issuing notice on the plea of DMDK leader ‘Captain’ Vijaykant, a bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice C. Nagappan said that slapping of defamation cases against people for criticising government policies is not the way for “a healthy democracy”.
“Public figures must face criticism. This is not the way a healthy democracy functions,” the bench said, adding: “Don’t use the state machinery” against your critics.
“If there is some problem, one takes that person ‘one on one’,” it observed, asking: “Why you use state machinery for that.”
In Chennai, leaders of the ruling AIADMK said the apex court had made an observation but denied they were using the defamation law against political opponents and only resorted it when comments got “personal”.
Vijaykant had filed a petition challenging the institution of several defamation cases against him by the state for criticising Jayalalithaa and her policies.
Taking exception to the way defamation cases were being filed in the State, the bench said: “It is the state which looks after the prosecution.. controls the prosecution. You must exercise restrainT while starting prosecution.”
In the meantime, the court, which had in the course of the last hearing on July 28 sought a list of the number of defamation cases filed by the Jayalalithaa government against its critics, was told the Jayalalithaa government has filed 131 defamation cases against people for criticising her government and its policies.
Holding that defamation law could not be used as a “political counter weapon”, the court had then said: “It amounts to curbing of free speech. There has to be tolerance for criticism. The defamation law cannot be used as a political counter weapon.”
During the July 28 hearing, the court had stayed the non-bailable warrants issued by a court in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur against Vijaykanth and his wife Premalatha, who had attracted the defamation case for criticising the Tamil Nadu government policy and describing it as corrupt.
The Tirupur court had issued non-bailable warrants against the couple following their non-appearance before it in the defamation case filed in February.
Vijaykant is facing 14 defamation cases for criticising the working of the AIADMK government.
In Chennai, AIADMK spokesperson Avadi Kumar told IANS: “The Supreme Court has made an observation. But the AIADMK government is not using the defamation law as a political tool.”
“A trial court has to decide whether the statement made by a person is defaming or not. If the trial court says that there is no basis for the defamation case, then the criticism of defamation law is being used against critics could be said.
“Valid comments, criticisms are being answered by the government through its machinery. Only when there is a comment which is not constructive criticism, but defamatory against the Chief Minister, a case is being filed,” he said.
His colleague C.R.Saraswathi added: “We are taking the issue in the legal forum.In the recent times opposition parties in Tamil Nadu and some politically oriented media are making personal comments. Such things have to be stopped.
“The government has not filed cases against all the newspapers. Only when the comments exceed the limits of decency, defamation cases are filed.”