New Delhi : 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.”

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.  Vijaykanth is facing 14 defamation cases for criticising the working of the AIADMK government.-IANS