The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday quashed criminal proceedings against Union Minister Babul Surpriyo on the basis of charge sheet filed by Kolkata Police in an FIR lodged by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra on grounds that “charge-sheet does not disclose commission of any offence under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.” However, the court, observed that utterance by the Minister was “defamatory statement within the meaning of Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code” and added that Ms Moitra was “at liberty to take any action, according to law, if available to her against the petitioner before the appropriate forum and in such case”.
The case pertains to developments in January 2017, during a debate on a news channel when Mr. Supriyo, the BJP MP from Asansol, said, “Mohua, are you on mohua?” alluding to the liquor drunk in tribal areas. Ms Moitra, who was then a Trinamool Congress MLA, later filed a complaint against Mr. Supriyo.
Justice Bibek Chaudhuri rejected the arguments by Mr. Supriyo’s counsel that the statement was an “accidental slip of words”, not intended to defame the opposite party. “It is expected from a representative of the people that he must be courteous in his behaviour, dignified in his manners and cautious on his words spoken by him,” the order said.
In the 32-page order Justice Chaudhuri said that by making “such defamatory statement to a woman, the petitioner prima facie, not only humiliated dignity and honour of a woman, but also violated his constitutional oath. If doubt is raised in the mind of people from the utterances made by the petitioner that the at the relevant point of time she was drunken and intoxicated…” adding that the “utterance made by the petitioner was defamatory statement within the meaning of Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code”.
Justice Chaudhuri also added that constitutional mandate under Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles of State policy that “dignity of woman must be protected and freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) is subject to reasonable restrictions and one of such restrictions is penal provision against defamation.”