BANGALORE: The Lokayukta briefing the media about corruption charges against an official does not amount to defamation even if the charges later prove incorrect, the High Court has ruled.
Justice A V Chandrashekara has dismissed a criminal petition filed by Hemant Nimbalkar against former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and then Additional Director-General of Police Roopak Kumar Dutta for framing false charges in March, 2009.
Nimbalkar, then superintendent of police in Belgaum, now serves as joint commissioner of police (crime) in Bangalore.
The court observed that the Lokayukta Act does not prohibit press briefings about raids and seizures. Justice Hegde’s announcement of incorrect information was not intended to defame Nimbalkar, the court said.
A team of Lokayukta officials had raided Nimbalkar’s house on March 18, 2009. Later, Hegde, then Lokayukta, had held a press conference and stated that Nimbalkar owned assets worth more than `250 crore, disproporionate to his known sources of income.
When the case came up before the Lokayukta Special Court in Belgaum, the Lokayukta police filed a ‘B’ report, giving a clean chit to Nimbalkar.
After the verdict, Nimbalkar filed a defamation suit against Hegde and Datta, and against newspapers which published reports of the press conference held by Hegde.
A magistrate court in Belgaum dismissed his petition. He then approached the High Court, submitting that the investigations had tortured him and his family.
Since the Lokayukta police had given him a clean chit, his innocence had been proved, he contended.
The High Court observed that Section 15 (4) of the Lokayukta Act empowers the Lokayukta, as head of the institution, to hold press conference and give press statements.
No law prohibits the Lokayukta from sharing information provided to him by his subordinates, the order said.
The court also wondered why Nimbalkar had kept quiet till the investigation was concluded.