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Only family members, relatives can file defamation suit for imputations against a deceased person: Punjab & Haryana High Court

Only ‘family members’ or ‘near relatives’ of a deceased person can file a suit for defamation under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently held (Raj Kumar Saini v. Sant Kanwar).

On that ground, a single-judge Bench of Justice Sanjay Kumar quashed a defamation complaint filed by an unrelated person against a late Arya Samajist.

“The statutory scheme, therefore, indicates that the ‘person aggrieved’ must have an element of personal interest, being either the person defamed himself or in the case of a deceased person, his family member or another near relative,” the High Court ruled.

One Sant Kanwar, a follower of prominent Arya Samajist and freedom fighter and former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda, filed a defamation complaint against former Member of Parliament, Raj Kumar Saini.

Kanwar claimed that Saini had made certain defamatory remarks against the late Matu Ram Hooda. Based on Kanwar’s complaint, the Magistrate had issued a summons to Saini.

Saini moved the High Court seeking quashing of the complaint and the summoning order issued by the Magistrate.

The High Court adverted to Section 499 of the Penal Code and noted that only a ‘person aggrieved’ could file a defamation suit.

The Court also emphasized that an imputation made against a deceased person could also amount to defamation. Only a relative or family member could file a defamation suit with a hint against a deceased person.

Dismissing Sant Kanwar’s claim that he was ‘ideologically’ related to the late Arya Samajist, the Court narrowly interpreted the expression ‘family members’ and ‘near relatives’ and stated that the complainant could not unilaterally assume upon himself the status of an aggrieved person.

“Therefore, the respondent-complainant, who is not a ‘family member’ or ‘near relative’ of late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda, cannot unilaterally assume unto himself the status of an ‘aggrieved person’ under Section 199 Cr. P.C, whereby he can assert that his feelings were hurt and maintain the subject complaint against the petitioner before the learned Magistrate for the alleged offense of defamation..”, the Bench stated.

The Court, therefore, quashed the complaint noting that the complainant, in this case, was not a family member or a near relative of the late Chaudhary Matu Ram Hooda.

Via Bar & Bench
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