NEW DELHI: Three years after the Supreme Court refused the plea of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who is facing proceedings in a criminal defamation case, to scrap the penal provision, his party manifesto promised Tuesday to repeal the colonial-era law.
Not only Gandhi but other leaders including BJP's Subramanian Swamy and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had failed to get the offence decriminalised by the apex court.
The apex court on May 13, 2016 had rejected their pleas to scrap the over 150-year-old penal provisions and they were asked to face criminal defamation cases lodged against them.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra (since retired) had said the "reputation of one cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other's right of free speech".
In the manifesto released on Tuesday, the Congress party promised to omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and make 'defamation' a civil offence.
Gandhi is facing trial in a criminal defamation case pending in Bhiwandi, Maharashtra, for allegedly blaming RSS for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
As per section 499 of the IPC, defamation could be through words, spoken or intended to be read, through signs, and also through visible representations.
These can either be published or spoken about a person with the intention of damaging the reputation of that person or with the knowledge or reason to believe that the imputation will harm his reputation.
If found guilty of criminal defamation, section 500 of the IPC entails imprisonment of up to two years, with or without fine.
However, criminal defamation is a compoundable offence and parties can seek a closure of the case by reaching a compromise.
The criminal defamation case was filed by Rajesh Kunte of RSS against Gandhi who had pleaded not guilty.
Kunte had filed the case after watching Rahul Gandhi's speech at an election rally in 2014 in which he had claimed that the RSS was behind the killing of Mahatma Gandhi.
Swamy was also facing three criminal defamation cases in Tamil Nadu filed by the then J Jayalalithaa government for allegedly making certain comments against her.
Kejriwal was facing a number of defamation cases and several of them have now been settled.
The cases against him were filed by Union Ministers and BJP leaders Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Congress leader Kapil Sibal's son Amit Sibal and others.
The apex court, in the judgement delivered on a batch of 27 pleas, had held that the right to freedom of speech and expression is "absolutely sacrosanct" but "is not absolute.
" The top court, which had analysed the two penal provisions and section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure dealing with prosecution for defamation, did not agree with the contentions that criminalising defamation attacks freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution and there cannot be reasonable restriction on free speech.
However, it had clarified that since the offence of criminal defamation has its own gravity, the magistrates have to be extremely careful in issuing a summons.