New Delhi: The petitions of political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Subramanian Swamy and Arvind Kejriwal, challenging the validity of penal provisions on defamation, should be referred to a constitution bench, government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant, while granting three days to the Centre to file response to the petitions, dealt with the submission for sending them to larger bench and said "in our considered opinion, the said facet shall be addressed to and dealt with while dealing with the merits of the case."
However, it also once asked during the hearing that two- judge benches have heard major petitions on gay rights and freedom of speech on social media, so "where is the need for constitution Bench".
Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi and Additional Solicitor General P S Narsimha, appearing for Centre, said the hearing by a constitution bench was needed as the cases relate to Article 19(2) (reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech) of the Constitution, with regard to sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) of the IPC.
Senior advocate T R Andhyarujina, who was appointed amicus curiae in the case, also supported "the view and perception of the Attorney General".
Fixing the bunch of pleas for hearing on July 14, the bench said it would look into the laws of other countries which have abolished criminal defamation and whether such a course can be adopted in the context of India.
"In the writ petition, a contention has been raised that in number of countries, criminal defamation has been abolished. The question, thus, emerges whether abolition of such a criminal action in other countries can really have any impact or effect when this court adjudges or decides the constitutional validity of a statutory provision," it said.
The bench also asked the lawyers for the parties to file their "propositions of law" which they intend to advance in course of their arguments.
The bench is hearing petitions filed by various persons including BJP leader Swamy, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the Delhi Chief Minister.
The court, which has stayed proceedings against these leaders in separate defamation cases, is to decide on their pleas that these two provisions were unconstitutional as they violated freedom of speech and expression.
During the hearing today, Swamy said "defamation kills free speech" and politicians become targets of their rivals.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal sought "de-linking" of Rahul Gandhi's separate appeal filed in connection with a criminal defamation case before a Maharashtra trial court for allegedly blaming RSS for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Let it come along with other petitions," the court said.
Earlier, the apex court, on various dates, had stayed the criminal proceedings against Swamy, Gandhi and Kejriwal.
It had also asked the Centre to respond to the pleas challenging constitutional validity of the two penal provisions relating to the offence of defamation.
Swamy, against whom criminal defamation cases were filed in Tamil Nadu allegedly at the instance of Chief Minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa, has sought setting aside of sections 499 (defamation) and 500 (punishment for defamation) of the IPC.
He had said the IPC provisions put unreasonable restrictions on people's right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.