Army Chief defamation case: Court to hold inquiry
New Delhi: A Delhi court on Friday said that it will hold an inquiry into the allegations levelled by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh in a criminal defamation case filed by him against Gen VK Singh before passing any order on summoning the Army Chief.
The court also directed the Defence Ministry to place before it the file relating to the publication of the Army`s March 5 press release in which Tejinder Singh was accused of offering a bribe of Rs 14 crore to the Army Chief.
The court, in its order, said it was "prima facie satisfied that the March 5 press release was defamatory" as "ex-facie" serious allegation of "bribery" has been made against Tejinder Singh, who had a long and distinguished career in the Army.
However, the court said before passing any order, it has to be inquired whether the Army Chief and four others named in the complaint, had any role in the publication of the press release.
The court said that the "only important question that now survives" before it is that whether among the five persons, mentioned in the complaint, the Army Chief and two others -- Lt Gen SK Singh and Lt Gen BS Thakur -- had any complicity in the publication of the press release.
"I find that at this stage i.e. On the basis of evidence available, this court cannot draw any positive or negative inference and it would be appropriate for this court to postpone the issuance of process and hold an inquiry as per section 202 of the CrPC," Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja, in his 17-page order, said.
Section 202 of the CrPC empowers the court to hold inquiry for the purpose of deciding whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding in a complaint.
Perusing the complaint and the press release, the judge
said, "In my view, at this stage, testimony of the complainant supported by the testimonies of complainant witnesses...Is sufficient to prima facie satisfy this court that the press release dated March 5 is defamatory i.e. False and injurious qua the character and reputation of the complainant.
"The bribery allegation made in the press release dated March 5 appears to be a ex-facie serious allegation when seen in light of the fact that the complainant has claimed to have rendered thirty nine and half years of distinguished service in the Indian Army and have obtained two medals from the Government of India for his distinguished service," it said.
The court, which was scheduled to pass an order today on summoning Army Chief and four others, said that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would send the file, relating to publication of the press release before it in a sealed cover.
"In pursuance of the inquiry under section 202 of the CrPC, it is directed that file regarding publication of the press release dated March 5 be summoned through office of the Secretary, MoD, Union of India.
"In case the file is not available in the office of the Secretary, MoD, it is expected that Secretary, MoD would summon the file from the Army Headquarters and ensure that it is sent in a sealed cover through an appropriate officer, for perusal by this court," the court said.
It said that as per the facts in the complaint, it does not disclose the commission of offence described under section 211 (false charge of offence made with intent to injure) of IPC because till the filing of complaint, "no criminal prosecution had been instituted against the complaint."
The court, in its order, said it appeared that the persons named in the complaint had issued the March 5 press release in violation of the Army Act and other Rules.
"I find that at this stage of the proceedings, it appears that respondents (named in the complaint) have issued the press release dated March 5 in violation of Section 21 of the Army Act, 1950, Rule 21 of the Army Rules, 1954 and the Defence Technical Publicity Rules, 2004 and therefore, at this stage, the benefit of section 197 (2) cannot be granted to the respondents.
"However, I also find that a final decision regarding grant/refusal of benefit of section 197 (2) of the CrPC can be taken only once the respondents enter appearance and lead evidence in their defence," the court said.
It also said the respondents have "consistently claimed that the contents of the press release dated March 5 are true and correct and the press release dated March 5 was issued by the Army as an organization".
It said that on the point of owning up responsibility for the publication of the press release, "the respondents have taken inconsistent stands".
It noted that respondent no.4 Maj Gen S L Narsimhan and respondent no.5 Lt Colonel Hitten Sawhney had, in their reply to the notices send by Tejinder Singh, stated that the view expressed in the press release are "not their own views and that in pursuance of their duty, they had forwarded" the same.
The court observed that in their replies, the other three persons named in the complaint, including Gen VK Singh, had stated that they have not issued the March 5 press release and it was issued by the Army as an organisation.
"In my view, at this stage, the replies given by Narsimhan and Sawhney are sufficient to draw a prima facie inference that they were involved in the publication of the press release dated March 5, because in their replies, they have categorically admitted that they had forwarded the press release," the judge said.
Besides the Army Chief, Tejinder Singh has named Vice
Chief of Army Staff S K Singh, Lt Gen BS Thakur (DG MI), Major General SL Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney, accusing them of misusing their official positions, power and authority to level false charges against him.
Tejinder Singh, a former Director General of Defence Intelligence Agency, had filed the defamation complaint against the Army Chief and four other Army officials rejecting the allegations that he had offered the bribe for clearing a deal for 600 "sub-standard" vehicles.
The case was transferred to Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja as the court which was earlier hearing the matter, had refused to proceed with it citing loss of confidence of Tejinder Singh`s counsel in it.
The court had earlier recorded Tejinder Singh`s statement and the pre-summoning evidence in support of his defamation complaint over a press release alleging he had offered a bribe on behalf of Tatra and Vectra Ltd which supplies vehicles to BEML.
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