Army Chief can face action for defamation
New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Thursday ruled that the central government cannot be asked to withdraw a press release issued by the Army, and that disciplinary action "can be taken" against the Army Chief and four others who had "exceeded their jurisdiction and defamed" a former Lt General.
The court refused to direct the government to withdraw the March 5 press release in which Army Chief General VK Singh had accused Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh of offering him a bribe.
Justice Mukta Gupta, while disposing of the petition of Lt Gen Singh, said: "The press release was not released by the central government, so it cannot be directed to disown, retract, or withdraw the press release."
However, the court noted that the Army Chief and four other officers exceeded their jurisdiction and defamed Lt Gen Singh and thus a disciplinary action can be taken against them by concerned disciplinary authority.
"Respondent 2 to 6 (Army Chief and four officers) exceeded in their jurisdiction and defamed petitioner and thus disciplinary action be taken against them," the court said, adding that "taking disciplinary action is a part and parcel of the concerned disciplinary authority".
Lt Gen Singh had approached the court after the Army Chief issued the release that said he was offered Rs.14 crore in bribe to clear a tranche of 600 `sub-standard` vehicles for the army. He moved the court seeking withdrawal of the press release that leveled "serious allegation" against him.
Accepting the government`s argument that the press release was issued by the Army, the court said the statement was not issued by the Union of India or with its approval.
Additional Solicitor General AS Chandhiok appearing for the government said the press release came from the Army and the "highest" in the army approved it. He said the government had nothing to do with it.
Justice Gupta said that in case Lt Gen Singh made any representation for taking disciplinary action against the Army Chief and other officers, action can be taken by the authority.
"In case representation is made by the petitioner for taking disciplinary action against R2 to 6, action can be taken by disciplinary authority in accordance with law," said the court.
The petitioner sought from the court initiation of disciplinary action against the Army Chief and four other officers and its sanction for their prosecution.
"The press release contained ex-facie defamatory statement and false accusations against the petitioner. The press release is unauthorised and illegal. As per the rules, the army or its officials are not authorised to directly address the public through media," the petition said.
Lt Gen Singh`s petition alleged that the army chief and other officers issued and published the release ostensibly to clear the Army`s stand on the alleged bugging of the office of the defence minister and defame him.
He said: "The Army officers abused and misused their official position, power and authority for their ulterior personal gains by defaming and bringing dishonour to the petitioner."
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