New Delhi: The Delhi High Court has dismissed a plea moved by news magazine Tehelka and its co-founder Aniruddha Bahal seeking review of an order directing them to pay Rs 2 crore in damages to Major General M.S. Ahluwalia in a defamation case filed back in 2002.
Justice Neena Bansal Krishna said that there is no error apparent on the face of record nor have the applicants been able to highlight any error or mistake which can be corrected within the ambit of review.
On July 21, the court directed Tehelka, its former editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal, Bahal and a reporter to pay Rs 2 crore in damages.
The defamation suit was based on a story published by Tehelka in March 2001, which portrayed Ahluwalia as an alleged corrupt middleman involved in defence deals related to the import of new equipment.
A video tape and transcript had also alleged that Ahluwalia had accepted a bribe of Rs 50,000 from one of the reporters.
This "false" allegation received wide publicity through various media channels and had serious repercussions, leading to a Court of Inquiry initiated by the Indian Army.
Justice Krishna had observed that the article had severely damaged Ahluwalia's reputation, leading to a decline in public esteem and causing serious harm to his character with allegations of corruption that could not be easily rectified or healed by subsequent refutation.
Ahluwalia had previously sent a legal notice seeking an apology, but it was refused by the defendants. The court observed that the apology at this stage has become irrelevant as the plaintiff has already suffered the Court of Inquiry and has already been punished with severe displeasure qua his conduct which was held to be unbecoming of an Army Officer.The court had ordered: "... damages in the sum of Rs 2,00,00,000/- (Rupees two crores) is awarded to the plaintiff to be paid by defendant No.1 to 4 for having caused defamation, along with costs of the suit."
The court had said that Ahluwalia, an honest Army Officer who had rejected bribes, had suffered significant harm to his reputation due to the false statements made about him.
Noting that the Court of Inquiry gave a clean chit to Ahluwalia and severe displeasure was awarded only because of his conduct of agreeing to meet with people of doubtful credentials, the judge had said: "It is a service discipline which was questioned and not the integrity or character of the plaintiff (Ahluwalia). To borrow the triple test... this false statement about the plaintiff to his discredit, exposed him to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his office, professional or trade and consequently tended to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right thinking members of society.
"While the court had said that Tehelka's objective might have been in the public interest, it stated that this did not justify fabricating false statements to sensationalise the story among the general public.As for Zee Telefilm Limited, its former Chairman Subhash Chandra, and former Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Goyal, the court found no evidence to support Ahluwalia's claim of defamation against them.