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Defamation Case – Supreme Court Upholds Kerala High Court decision, RSS Member has Locus Standi to File Complaint U/s 499 IPC

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New Delhi. SC on Friday upheld the decision of the Kerala High Court which had held that a complaint made by a member of the RSS against a news organisation for publishing material that is allegedly defamatory towards the RSS, is maintainable under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.

A Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Aniruddha Bose said that the judgment of the Kerala High Court warranted no interference by the top court and dismissed the plea by media organisation Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd.

The High Court judgement upheld by the top court was delivered by Justice Sophy Thomas in which it was held that since the RSS is a definite and identifiable body, its members have the locus standi to maintain a complaint against articles defaming the organisation of RSS.

When an article is published in a newspaper containing imputations meant to harm the reputation of RSS, complaint by individual member of RSS is maintainable under Explanation 2 to Section 499 of IPC. It is not necessary that the imputations in the article individually affected the reputation of the complainant,” the Kerala High Court had held.

The judgment of the Kerala High Court was delivered on a petition moved by Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly and nine other persons, including some reporters, editors and illustrators.

The petitioners had approached the court to quash the proceedings before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences) Court, Ernakulam, which was initiated on a private complaint filed by the State Secretary of the RSS.

The RSS Secretary had alleged that the petitioners had published an article which contained imputations that were defamatory and misleading and lowered the reputation of RSS in the public.

Of the contentions raised by the petitioners, the Court focused on their contention that a member of the RSS, including its State Secretary, had no locus standi to represent the organisation of RSS.

Section 499 of IPC defines defamation, which reads thus:

“499. Whoever, by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person”.

The Court referred to the judgement of the Kerala High Court in Achuthanandan v Varughese in which it was held that the words “association or collection of persons” mentioned in Section 499 have to be understood in conjunction with the expression “person aggrieved” in Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, though the two expressions are in two different codes.

It examined Section 199 of Code of Criminal Procedure which contains a ban that no court shall take cognizance of the offence of defamation except upon a complaint made by “some persons aggrieved by the offence”.

Going by Explanation 2 to Section 499, the Court clarified that if a well-defined class is defamed, each and every member of that class can file a complaint under Section 500 of IPC, which prescribes the punishment for the offence of defamation as defined under Section 499.

Therefore, the Kerala High Court had rejected the contention of the petitioners and refused to quash the proceedings against them.

Input Courtesy – Bar and Bench

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