Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday asked the Union and state governments to file their detailed replies on a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking framing of guidelines to restrain those persons making derogatory remarks against persons who are dead and held in high esteem.
A division bench of Chief Justice DK Upadhyay and Justice Arif Doctor was hearing a PIL filed by Maharashtra Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (MGSN) and a few associated social workers against the backdrop of Hindu activist Sambhaji Bhide making alleged derogatory remarks against Mahatma Gandhi.
HC bench asks to delete Bhide as respondent in the plea
The bench has directed the petitioners to delete Bhide as a respondent in the plea saying that the PIL was for general directions and not against an individual.
Senior advocate Anil Anturkar, appearing for the petitioner, argued that if Bhide is removed as a respondent then the issue in the petition will be rendered academic. The plea raised grievance that there have been several incidents in the recent past where deliberate utterances were made against dead persons who are held in high esteem.
Anturkar argued that the petitioners were merely concerned that groups with differing ideologies and heroes worshipped in that ideology should not end up maligning each other’s heroes.
He urged the court to take a preventive stand and issue guidelines. If a national hero is defamed, then it is not only legal heirs who can challenge that, Anturkar said. The judges, however, said that they were not convinced if they can intervene to interpret or widen the scope of a section.
“Legislature has consciously used the words ‘family’ in the section. Can we expand the scope of the section? asked the CJ.
Advocate General Birendra Saraf argued that the field of defamation and crime was extensive and had been extensively legislated upon. He said that the State also has to look into logistics and infrastructure to handle such crimes. “To create a list of such persons who are held in high esteem, this kind of direction is incapable of implementation,” Saraf argued.
Judge: Cherish constitutional ideals
Additional solicitor general Devang Vyas and Advocate Shardul Singh, appearing for the Union government, argued that defamation is a personal injury and if a person is aggrieved, by certain utterances against a person of historical importance, then he can approach the court with appropriate proceedings under the IPC.
The CJ said that the constitution says we have to cherish constitutional ideals. "So we cannot say the field is already occupied. If it hurts feelings of sectional identities, then the criminal defamation section is not available to such a group, but only family members," the CJ added.