NEW DELHI, Mar 1: The Delhi High Court today dismissed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea seeking details of bank accounts, tax returns and other financial records of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who has filed a defamation suit against him.
The high court said that Kejriwal’s plea, which also sought the bank statements of Jaitley’s family members and companies in which he or they had over 10 per cent shareholding, was a “fishing or roving enquiry” and did not have any merit.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw also dismissed Kejriwal’s plea seeking removal of certain portions of Jaitley’s evidence claiming they were not there in the pleadings and replication of the BJP leader.
Advocate Anupam Srivasta-va, appearing for Kejriwal, said they intended to appeal against the order.
Jaitley had filed the defamation suit in 2015 seeking Rs 10 crore damages from Kejriwal, Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai.
The AAP leaders had allegedly attacked Jaitley and his family members in various fora, including social media, over alleged irregularities and financial bungling in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), of which he was the president for about 13 years till 2013.
Jaitley has already denied all the allegations.
While Kejriwal’s pleas were dismissed, Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Raghav Chadha fared better as his application for framing of an additional issue, that statements made by him in public fora against a public figure are privileged from defamatory action, was allowed by the court.
It, however, did not frame the additional issue whether the plaintiff (Jaitley) has to prove that alleged defamatory statements were made out of malice, after senior advocates Rajiv Nayar and Pratibha M Singh, appearing for the BJP leader, objected to it.
The court also allowed his plea for filing original annual reports and statements of accounts of DDCA for the period from 2000-01 to 2012-13.
While denying Kejriwal’s plea, the court said it is “nothing but a fishing or roving enquiry” and that “it is for defendant 1 (Kejriwal) to adduce evidence from accounts from where money has allegedly flown to the plaintiff (Jaitley), instead of wanting a negative information.”
The AAP supremo in his application had contended that he had sought the financial records of Jaitley and his family members from 1999-2000 to 2014-15 “to disprove” the BJP leader’s allegations against him and five other party leaders named in the defamation case.
Jaitley, in December last year, had appeared before the high court to record his evidence in connection with the defamation case.
In his second application, Kejriwal had sought removal of those portions of Jaitley’s statement given in his evidence, which were not stated in his suit.
Kejriwal’s lawyer argued in court today that if it was not possible to remove the portions, then the trial in the case should be held separately for him.
The judge disagreed with the contention, saying “there cannot be a mini-trial at this stage” and added that if the court started adjudicating such applications at the stage of recording of evidence, it would defer the trial.
During arguments on Chadha’s plea for seeking framing of an additional issue of whether his alleged defamatory statements were privileged, the court was of the view that “there is no such privilege”.
“It is a dangerous proposition you are making. It means a spokesperson stands on a different footing,” the court said.
It was also of the view that issue of privilege would be covered by the issues already framed in July last year. If issues were framed on every plea, then “instead of guiding trial, it will only serve the purpose of delaying trial”.
Senior advocate Sanders Sethi, who also appeared for Jaitley, contended that “no one can defame someone on the touchstone of freedom of speech”.
The high court had on July 12 last year framed issues against Kejriwal and others in the matter, notwithstanding their claim that they had not made any defamatory statement against him in the DDCA case.
Some of the issues framed by the court include whether Jaitley was entitled to any damage for the alleged defamatory statements made by AAP leaders and what should be the amount. Whether the statements which are in public domain are actionable or not, was also one of the issues.
Apart from the civil suit, Kejriwal and the five AAP leaders are facing a criminal defamation case proceedings. (PTI)