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Delhi HC Directs Wire to Take Down Defamatory Article on Chief Secretary’s Son

A Wire article had linked Delhi chief secretary Naresh Kumar’s son, Karan Chauhan, to a case pertaining to enhanced valuation of a land, acquired by NHAI for the Dwarka Expressway road project.

The Delhi high court on Wednesday directed news portal The Wire to take down a defamatory article linking Delhi chief secretary Naresh Kumar’s son Karan Chauhan to a case pertaining to enhanced valuation of a land, acquired by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for the Dwarka Expressway road project. The order was pronounced by a bench of justice Sachin Datta.

While reserving the verdict, the high court had questioned the basis on which the report was published adding that there must be a semblance of truth in the allegations.

“Show me the basis… What is the material on the basis on which you made these allegations? Today I need to see what is the balance of convenience. Show me that there is a semblance of truth in your allegation. As a member of the press, is there no law against sensationalism? You can indulge in exaggeration?” the bench told The Wire’s counsel Sarim Naved.

The dispute had begun when southwest Delhi’s district magistrate (DM) Hemant Kumar overturned a 2018 decision of the additional DM of granting ₹41.52 crore for the 19 acre land in dispute based on a valuation of ₹53 lakh per acre and instead awarded ₹353 crore compensation on May 15, 2023 to two individuals Subhash Chand Kathuria and his brother Vinod Kathuria.

The article alleged that one of the beneficiaries of the 19 acre land, Subhash Chand Kathuria was father-in-law of Aman Sarin, promoter of a realty firm, Anantraj Limited, who had close business links with Karan Chauhan.

Kumar had approached the high court also seeking to direct the Wire and its reporter from publishing, commenting, communicating, circulating defamatory material including false and libellous posts against Kumar and his family members on Google and Twitter and also other media outlets and a minimum compensation of ₹2.05 crore for defaming him.

He, in the interim, had also sought for taking down the tweets containing unwarranted and defamatory allegations.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Kumar appearing through senior advocate Maninder Singh argued that the article was published to enable a quarter to get active on social media to target his image by re-tweeting. He also added that one of the foundations of the Wire publishing the article was the role that Kumar played in getting the inquiries in the Delhi excise policy case.

“The article was published so that social media gets active to target my reputation. I am not a political person. He was instrumental in getting these inquiries in the excise policy done and bringing the trust of profit and the SC (Supreme Court) has now said that there seems to be at least ₹350 crore bribe which the ED has been able to show in the excise scam. I don’t want to say anything but this seems to be one of the foundations for the article,” Singh further added.

Yesterday, Kumar had submitted that pursuant to the overvaluation coming to light by way of an inspection on May 18, Kumar immediately took cognisance of the entire issue and directed the divisional commissioner Ashwani Kumar to monitor the case on a fortnightly basis and had later asked the directorate of vigilance to inquire into the matter.

“Eight times I had coordinated the entire exercise from May 18 to October 20,” Singh said, adding that it was on Kumar’s behest that the case was referred to CBI, the officer was transferred to Andaman Islands and was later suspended. He also submitted that the DMs award was set aside by the Delhi high court on October 31, 2023.

The Wire, appearing through advocate Sarim Naved said that there were government reports which the chief secretary had suppressed. “If such orders are passed, how will we question civil servants and governments? I am not responsible for re-tweets,” the counsel had added.

Delhi’s vigilance minister Atishi had last week recommended removal of Kumar and the divisional commissioner Ashwani Kumar from their post after receipt of a complaint from chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. While alleging prima facie complicity of Kumar in the land acquisition matter, she in her probe report had stated that the initial inquiry into the excessive compensation hike was not initiated suo moto by Kumar but they were forced to do it after the matter was flagged by NHAI. The CM had forwarded a report recommending Kumar’s suspension and immediate removal to lieutenant governor (LG) Vinay Saxena, but the same was rejected by the LG on Sunday.

Source: The Hindustan Times