A remarkable defamation case has been before the courts in India over the past few months. Criminal and constitutional proceedings have been brought by retired Lt Gen. Tejinder Singh (pictured) a former director general of Defence Intelligence Agency against the Army Chief of Staff, General V K Singh and four others over a press release making an allegations of bribery against him. The criminal proceedings are continuing but the constitutional proceedings were not successful.
The story goes back to early March 2012. On 5 March 2012 Army Headquarters issued a press release alleging that Tejinder Singh had offered General V K Singh a bribe of Rs 14 crore (£1.7 m) for the purchase of 600 sub-standard trucks. On 27 March 2012, Tejinder Singh made a criminal defamation complaint against Gen V K Singh for making the “libelous” statement in media about him. He also named S K Singh (Vice-Chief of Army staff), Lt Gen B S Thakur (DG MI), Major General S L Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney, accusing them of misusing their official position, power and authority to level false charges against him. He sought an order summoning them to court.
After various court hearings, on 18 May 2012, the Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate ruled that he 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.
The court found sufficient prima facie inference that Lt. Colonel Hitten Sawhney and General S.L. Narsimhan were involved in the publication of the press release. However, it went on to say that before making any order, it had to be inquired whether the Army chief and the others named in the complaint had any role in the publication of the press release. Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja said.
“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,”
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. The magistrate sought a copy of the file relating to the issuing of the press release from the Ministry of Defence. When the file has been provided he will, it appears, decide whether the remaining respondents were responsible for the publication of the press release. The case was re-listed for 6 June 2012.
Meanwhile, on 25 April 2012 Tejinder Singh approached the Supreme Court on seeking an order for a criminal inquiry on the alleged role of the Army Chief in the purported bugging of the Defence Minister’s office and action against him for “misconduct”. This petition was withdrawn on 10 May 2012. Tejinder Singh told the court that he had top-secret documents related to the case and if he pursued the case, the documents would come out in public domain, which he did not want.
A third set of proceedings were issued before the Delhi High Court. Tejinder Singh sought a direction that the Ministry of Defence withdraw the press release as it was a violation of his constitutional right to reputation. This petition was refused on 24 May 2012. Justice Mukta Gupta said that “The Union of India cannot be directed to disown or retract the aforesaid press release“. However, the judge went on to say that Tejinder Singh could make a representation before the authorities seeking initiation of disciplinary proceedings against that five Army officials said to be involved.
The Army Chief of Staff has subsequently repeated his allegation of bribery against Tejinder Singh who has, in turn, said that Gen V K Singh has “lost his mental balance”. Meanwhile, General Singh will retire at the end of May 2012 – following his withdrawal of his Supreme Court petition seeking an alteration of his date of birth on his army record (lodged on the basis that the previously recorded date was inaccurate).
It appears that the next round of Tejinder Singh’s remarkable case will take place before the New Delhi magistrate on 6 June 2012.