Delhi HC weighs Freedom of expression in Defamation suit by Dehadrai against Mahua Moitra

The Delhi High Court, hearing a defamation suit filed by lawyer and former partner Jai Anant Dehadrai against Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra, on Monday held that she has a right to defend herself in the public domain.

Earlier in March, the court had refused to grant interim relief to Moitra in a defamation suit against BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and Dehadrai pertaining to alleged defamatory content posted by them on social media regarding the “cash-for-query” allegations against her.

Moitra, who was expelled as a Lok Sabha MP on December 8 last year on the recommendation of the Ethics Committee, faces allegations of receiving cash in exchange for posing questions in the House on behalf of Hiranandani Group CEO Darshan Hiranandani.

Appearing before a bench of Justice Prateek Jalan, advocate Raghav Awasthi, representing Dehadrai, stressed the public nature of the allegations and their potential impact on his client’s reputation. He argued against Moitra’s use of derogatory terms and cited her significant social media following, saying that her actions warranted judicial scrutiny.

In response, Moitra’s counsel, advocate Samudra Sarangi, argued upon Moitra’s intention to mount a defence grounded in justification and fair comment.

He pledged to present evidence supporting Moitra’s position, aiming to demonstrate the validity of her statements.

Justice Jalan sought to draw a fine line between protecting reputations and upholding free speech rights.

While noting the heightened scrutiny public figures face, he stressed the need for balance and cautioned against manifestly defamatory remarks.

Referencing recent legal precedents, including the Arvind Kejriwal case and the Bloomberg judgement, Justice Jalan noted the criteria for imposing restraints on publication, pointing out the importance of veracity in determining defamation claims.

The interim injunction application is slated for the next hearing on April 25.

Dehadrai’s suit alleges that Moitra made defamatory statements against him on various social media platforms, as well as in print and electronic media. He is seeking Rs 2 crore in damages from Moitra, alleging that she referred to him as “jobless” and “jilted” as well as seeking to restrain her from publishing further defamatory material against him on social media.

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Justice Jalan had, in March, also issued summons to five media houses as well as social media platforms X and Google LLC, while directing Moitra to respond to Dehadrai’s application seeking interim relief, as he posted the next hearing on April 8.

The judge had also noted that in cases of this nature, both parties are often seen as warring factions, neither solely a victim nor a perpetrator, and that a significant portion of the battle in such cases is fought outside the courtroom.

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