The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed petitions challenging criminal defamation under the sections of 499 and 500 of the IPC.
Right to life under Art. 21 includes the right to reputation, the court said while upholding the law. Mutual respect to each other is required to maintain the constitutional value that ensures the dignity of any individual.
The court also said there is a need to strike a balance between reputation and freedom of speech and magistrates should be extremely careful while issuing summons under the law.
The two-judge bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C Pant the Supreme Court rulingg on the constitutional validity of the provisions against criminal defamation said it is difficult to say that criminal defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression.
The SC was hearing the matter based on 24 petitions that allege that the provisions of criminal sanction act as a censoring device, thus violating the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. The petitions have been filed by a number of politicians and public figures including BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.
The impugned sections of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 499 and 500, define criminal liability for â€śwords either spoken or intended to be readâ€ť, signs, or visible representations that are published or spoken about a person with the intention of damaging a personâ€™s reputation or with the knowledge that a personâ€™s reputation will be damaged by them, and provide for imprisonment for up to two years, with or without fines.
The petitions have been vociferously opposed by the central and some state governments with the argument that acceding to them would lead to anarchy in society, since people could malign othersâ€™ reputations with impunity.
Earlier, while hearing the case in 2015, the apex court had expressed its displeasure over the practice of multiple complaints being filed against a person across the country for allegedly defamatory statements.
The Law Commission in a consultation paper had also reportedly indicated its opposition to the provisions for criminal defamation. â€śThreats of legal action with punitive damages under the laws of defamation lead to a 'chilling effect' on the publication of free and independent news articles and puts undue pressure on journalists and publishing houses,â€ť the Law Commission was quoted as saying.