The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed circular by Delhi government on filing defamation cases against media organisations for any news that causes damage to its reputation or that of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other ministers and asked him to explain why it was issued.
“Issue notice (to Kejriwal). However, as an interim measure we direct stay of the circular dated May 6, 2015 till further order of this court. Accordingly, it is stayed,” said a bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant.
Asking Kejriwal to explain why the Directorate of Information has issued “such circular”, the court sought a reply within six weeks and listed the matter for further hearing on July 8.
The court’s order came on an application filed by senior advocate Amit Sibal seeking vacation of the stay granted by the apex court on the proceedings before a trial court in a defamation case.
Sibal, who had filed a criminal defamation complaint against Kejriwal and others in the Patiala House court, said that while the chief minister on one hand seeks setting aside of penal laws on defamation, on the other hand he has issued such a circular.
“It is noteworthy that the petitioner (Kejriwal) in his affidavit . . . declares that he is working as chief minister of Delhi. However, the aforesaid circular directly contradicts and militates against the stand taken by him in the present petition,” the plea said, adding that the stay on the trial court proceedings against Kejriwal be vacated.
The circular, issued by state information and publicity department, says that if any officer associated with the Delhi government feels that a published or aired item has caused damage to his or the government’s reputation, he should file a complaint with the principal secretary (home).
The circular also states that after getting a go-ahead from the director (prosecution), the matter should be referred to the law department and after taking approval from the government, a case should be filed.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had stayed proceedings in trial courts in a few criminal defamation cases against Kejriwal while deciding to hear his plea challenging “constitutional validity” of the penal provisions relating to defamation.
A PIL was also filed on Wednesday in the Delhi High Court seeking quashing of the city government’s circular.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court’s decision has given a reason to Opposition parties in Delhi to take on Arvind Kejriwal led Delhi government.
Welcoming the decision, Leader of Opposition in the Delhi assembly Vijendra Gupta said, “In democracy, you cannot gag the media. The anti-media circular was aimed at curbing voices of dissent.”
Congress General Secretary and DPCC Chief Ajay Maken said Kejriwal government had not only targeted the media but also tried to throttle the voices of its political adversaries through the circular.