SC reserves verdict on plea for quashing defamation provisions

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a batch of PILs challenging Constitutional validity of penal provisions on defamation on the ground of being violative of fundamental right to freedom of speech.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant concluded its hearing, which lasted 17 days, on the petitions filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi among others. The petitioners, who themselves faced prosecution for making defamatory statements, sought quashing of the provisions under Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code brought in the statute in 19th century by Lord Macaulay.

During the hearing, the Union government defended the provisions saying that in this age of social media and information technology, offensive statements made by unscrupulous elements go viral in a moment leaving the affected person with a limited remedy. The court, which frowned over multiple cases being filed across the country in case of one statement, said that any damage to reputation was worse than death for a person.

The government, on its part, maintained that quashing of Section 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code will mean freedom to hurl abuses without any orderly norm in the society, which would lead nothing but  anarchy. It also countered the plea made by the petitioners that defamation could be treated as civil action.

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