On July 3, the Supreme Court of India issued a notice in a plea concerning Delhi High Court’s March 29 order quashing the trial court’s summoning orders issued against The Wire’s Editor and Deputy Editor in a criminal defamation case. The case has been filed by former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Amita Singh.
Amita Singh filed a complaint in 2016, referring to The Wire’s article published in April 2016 titled “Dossier Call JNU “Den of Organised Sex Racket”; Students, Professors Allege Hate Campaign,” written by The Wire’s Dy Editor Ajoy Ashirwad.
She alleged that The Wire imputed that she had prepared a dossier depicting JNU as a “Den of Organised Sex Racket.” She alleged that The Wire’s editors did not verify the authenticity of the Dossier, using it for monetary gain while defaming her reputation. The trial court issued a summoning order against The Wire’s Editor Siddharth Bhatia and Deputy Editor Ajoy Ashirwad in the case. However, in March 2023, the Delhi High Court quashed the summoning order after which Amita Singh moved the Supreme Court.
The court’s Division Bench, comprising Justices SK Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia, issued a notice to JNU as well, directing it to examine whether such a dossier was submitted and if so, by whom. The court said, “We would also like to add JNU through the Vice Chancellor to verify whether any dossier was submitted at all to the university and if so to what effect and by whom. Notice be also issued to JNU limited to the aforesaid aspect.”
The court issued notice to JNU owing to ambiguity around whether Amita Singh submitted such a dossier. The court said, “Did you submit the dossier?.. Defamation would be if something is not submitted by you and it is attributed to you.”
Amita Singh’s counsel has denied that she has not submitted such a dossier. Furthermore, the counsel argued that she refutes the content of the dossier. The counsel contended, “Without verifying the dossier they are publishing it in the newspaper.”
Noting that Amita Singh’s counsel earlier responded in the affirmative, the court said, “Your presentation before us is causing the confusion.” The court asked, “Did you or did you not submit the dossier.” The counsel responded, “My statement can be recorded. I don’t know anything about the dossier.”
Delhi High Court Quashes Summons Order
On March 29, the Delhi High Court quashed the trial court’s summoning order issued against The Wire’s Editor and Deputy Editor in a criminal defamation case.
The court said that there is nothing in the contentious article saying anything against the complainant, much less which could be taken as defamatory. “…. the aforesaid caption only says that the dossier called JNU a “den of organised sex racket”, but nothing in the extract says anything against the respondent herself, much less anything that could be taken to be defamatory of the respondent,” the court said.
“It is also noticed, that even assuming that the subject publication could have been read in evidence, all that was stated in the article was that the respondent had led a team of persons, who had compiled a dossier, which dossier purported to expose certain wrongdoing at JNU. The subject publication did not say that the respondent was involved in any wrongdoing; nor did it speak of the respondent in any derogatory, derisive or denigrating terms,” the court added.
“On a plain, objective and careful reading of the extract of the subject publication as contained in the criminal complaint, it appears that the controversial dossier exposes wrongful activities that it says are going-on within the university campus; and that the respondent was leading a team of persons who compiled the dossier. At the risk of repetition, the subject publication nowhere says that the respondent is involved in the wrongful activities; nor does it make any other derogatory reference to her in connection therewith. This court is unable to discern therefore, as to how the subject publication can be said to have defamed the respondent,” the court said.