Desecration of Reputation has Become Child’s Play, Union Min Hardeep Puri & his Wife Suffered Enough Damage: Delhi HC

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The Delhi HC on Tuesday while directing RTI activist Saket Gokhale to delete all tweets against former United Nations Assistant Secretary and wife of Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri-General Lakshmi Puri, said in the age of social media, desecration of the reputation of a public figure has become child’s play.

“I have meticulously gone through both the affidavits, along with the annexures thereto, and am, prima facie, satisfied that there has been complete disclosure regarding the purchase of the Swiss Apartment, its value, as well as the loans taken from the UBS Bank for the purchase. I am unable to find, prima facie, even a scintilla of impropriety, or lack of transparency, either in the purchase of the apartment, or in the disclosures made to the statutory authorities in that regard, either by the plaintiff (Lakshmi Puri) or by her husband,” the court said.

The Delhi HC was delivering the judgement in a plea filed by former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri asking activist Saket Gokhale to delete all tweets against her. Adding to the judgement, the HC said if Saket Gokhale fails to delete the tweets, then Twitter is directed to take down those URLs.

News agency ANI reported, that a bench of Justice C Harishankar remarked that “in the age of social media, desecration of the reputation of a public figure has become child’s play. All that is needed is the opening of a social media account and, thereafter, the posting of messages on the account. Thousands of responses are received and, in the process, the reputation of the man, who is targeted, becomes mud.”

However, the court clarified that the opinion is intended only for the purposes of the present order, and the present stay application, and should not be regarded as an encroachment into the territories properly occupied by the Income Tax authorities, the Election Commission, or any other concerned statutory authority.

“I have scrutinised the affidavits filed by the plaintiff’s husband while standing for elections, and I do not, prima facie, find any concealment therein. Mr Maninder Singh is correct in his submission that there is no column, in the said affidavits, which would require including the details of the finances provided by the plaintiff’s daughter towards the purchase of the Swiss Apartment,” the court said.

The court also observed that Saket Gokhale’s tweet was erroneous and misleading on at least three counts.

“The first was that the plaintiff was not posted on deputation with the UNCTAD. She had taken leave consequent to having joined UN posting with the UNCTAD. She remained on leave from 2002 to 2011, and took voluntary retirement from the IFS in 2011, the court noted. The second count was that the plaintiff was not in an annual pay band of ₹ 10-12 lakhs, but was drawing tax-free pay, from the UN, in the region of CHF 250,000 to 300,000 per annum,” the court said.

Meanwhile, the court refused to accept the submission of Saket Gokhale’s advocate Sarim Naved, that “before posting messages on a social media platform, made accessible to all members of the public, against any person, no due diligence, by way of conducting, at the very least, a preliminary enquiry into the facts, is necessary.”

The court further added that such a submission, if accepted, would place the reputation of every citizen in the country in serious jeopardy, and open to ransom at the hands of every social media vigilante, some of whose intentions may be less than honourable.

“This is all the more so in the case of public figures, whose actions are, as a matter of course, subjected to intensive and invasive dissection by all members of the public,” the court noted.

“Accusative tweets, such as those which the defendant has posted against the plaintiff, therefore, attract much more adverse, and derogatory, comments than those against persons who do not live in the public gaze,” noted the High Court.

The court also said the damage that Puri and her husband have suffered as a result of the tweets is apparent, but “that is one of the unavoidable pitfalls of access to social media platforms and the way in which they work.”

It also informed that till the date of filing of the suit, the tweets posted by the Saket Gokhale had been “liked” by more than 26,270 users and “re-tweeted” by more than 8,280 users.

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