The Delhi High Court on Wednesday ordered news portal The Wire to take down a report that linked Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar’s son Karan Chauhan to a case related to enhanced valuation of land, Bar and Bench reported.
The report, titled “Links of son of Delhi Chief Secretary to Beneficiary’s Family in Land Over-Valuation Case Raise Questions” was published on November 9. It had alleged that Chauhan had links with a family that had benefited from inflated compensation for a 19-acre land acquired by the National Highway Authority of India in Delhi’s Bamnoli village.
On May 15, the district magistrate of southwest Delhi had overturned a 2018 decision of the additional district magistrate granting Rs 41.52 crore as compensation for the land acquired for the Dwarka Expressway road project to two brothers. The 2018 order to grant Rs 41.52 crore for the land was based on a valuation of Rs 53 lakh per acre, reported the Hindustan Times.
The order passed in May instead awarded Rs 353 crore compensation to two persons named Subhash Chand Kathuria and his brother Vinod Kathuria.
The Wire report alleged that Subhash Chand Kathuria’s son-in-law Aman Sarin, who runs a realty firm Anantraj Limited, had business ties with Chauhan.
On November 9, Kumar filed a defamation suit in the High Court to restrain The Wire from publishing defamatory material against him and his family members. Kumar also sought a compensation of Rs 2.05 crore for defaming him.
In his plea, Kumar had claimed that the news website’s intent behind publishing the article was that he should be targeted on social media.
Advocate Sarim Naved appearing for The Wire told the court that the article had only raised certain questions, and that it was the job of the website to question the government and bureaucrats.
However, Justice Sachin Datta of the High Court questioned the basis of the article. “Today I need to see what is the balance of convenience,” he said, reported the Hindustan Times. “Show me that there is a semblance of truth in your allegation. As a member of the press, is there no law against sensationalism? You can indulge in exaggeration?”
The court also observed: “While freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct, the reputation of a person earned over several decades, cannot be sacrificed at the altar of such freedom, when the impugned publication, ex-facie, contains unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory imputations, regardless of the truth.”
Following the High Court order, the news website took down the article and replaced it with a note saying: “This article is being taken down as per the ad-interim injunction ordered by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court. We reserve our right to take appropriate recourse in this matter.”
Last week, Delhi minister Atishi had recommended the removal of Naresh Kumar and divisional commissioner Ashwani Kumar from their posts on the basis of a complaint from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal., reported the Hindustan Times.
The minister had said that based on preliminary information, Kumar was complicit in the enhanced valuation of the land. However, on Sunday, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Vinay Saxena rejected this recommendation.