The president, vice president or any other public servant can file defamation complaints as private citizens as well, and do not need a sanction from the government to do so, the Supreme Court held on Monday, Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and V Ramasubramanian made the observation while dismissing Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manoj Tiwari’s plea against a Delhi High Court order refusing to quash the summon served to him in a criminal defamation case filed by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.

In his plea, Tiwari had argued that under Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code, there was a special procedure for presidents, vice presidents, governors, ministers and other public servants to file a defamation case.

The provision says that a public prosecutor needs to get a sanction from the state or central government to initiate proceedings on behalf of those holding public offices. Meanwhile, a private citizen only needs to file a complaint with a local magistrate, which Sisodia did.

However, the Supreme Court rejected Tiwari’s arguments holding that provisions under Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code were in addition to the rights that the public servants held as private citizens.

“He [Sisodia] never lost his right merely because he became a public servant and merely because the allegations related to the official discharge of his duties,” the court said, according to Live Law.

The case

In 2019, Sisodia had filed the defamation case against Tiwari along with the BJP leaders Parvesh Singh and Vijender Gupta for alleging that the Aam Aadmi Party was involved in a Rs 2,000-crore scam.

Tiwari had claimed that an additional Rs 2,000 crore was spent on the construction of classrooms in Delhi when they could have been constructed at Rs 892 crore. Sisodia had accused the three BJP leaders of defaming him through “offending publications” that he said were based on “cooked up” allegations. The deputy chief minister demanded an apology.

In November 2019, a trial court had summoned the three BJP leaders as accused persons. The leaders challenged the summons in the Delhi High Court, which upheld the lower court order. The BJP leaders then moved the Supreme Court.

Claim to ‘expose scam’ not defamation, says SC

On Monday, the Supreme Court also held that it would not be considered defamation if a political rival challenges to “expose a scam” carried out by a public servant, The Hindu reported.

Statements such as “I will expose you”, “I will expose your corrupt practices” and “I will expose the scam in which you are involved” are not defamatory in nature by themselves, Justice Ramasubramanian said in his verdict.