New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday asked Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh, seeking withdrawal of an alleged defamatory press release accusing him of offering bribe to the Army chief to clear a defence deal, to prove that the right to reputation is a fundamental right.
"You show and satisfy me that right to reputation is a fundamental right. Do not argue in the air and come prepared with the case laws," Justice Mukta Gupta said.
The court's observation came after Additional Solicitor General (ASG) AS Chandhiok, appearing for the Centre, gave to the court a note, which purportedly made clear the Centre's stand.
Anil Aggarwal, appearing for Tejinder Singh, who was allowed to have a glance of the note later said the government has told the court that it has no role whatsoever in the issuance of the alleged press release, which was drafted and released by the Army after a proper consultation of the top brass as per their media policy.
During the hearing, Justice Gupta asked the counsel for former Lieutenant General that prima facie it appears that the writ petition was not maintainable as Singh has other civil and criminal remedies to seek redressal against the alleged defamation caused to him by the Army's press release.
"Petitioner seeks time to satisfy the court that the right to reputation is a fundamental right and it has been breached," the court said and fixed the matter for further hearing on May 24.
The Centre, earlier, had sought more time to respond to Tejinder Singh's plea for directions to the Army Headquarters for withdrawal of its March 5 press release, which had alleged he offered a bribe to the Army chief to clear a defence acquisition deal.
ASG Chandhiok had sought a week to take a stand on the issue, saying all the files regarding various officers, named by Tejinder Singh in his petition, has not reached him.
He had sought more time after the court had asked the Centre to clarify if the press release with allegations against former lieutenant general was issued by the Government or by the Army officials in their individual capacity.
In a criminal writ petition filed through his counsel Anil K Aggarwal, Tejinder Singh had contended the press release issued by senior Army officials, including Army Chief General VK Singh, was "defamatory" and had sought its withdrawal.
He has moved the court to initiate disciplinary legal action against the officers mentioned in his plea. Besides Gen VK Singh, Tejinder Singh has named Vice-Chief of Army Staff SK Singh, Lt Gen BS Thakur (DG MI), Major General SL Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney as accused in the case.
He has also said in his petition that between March 1 and March 4, a large number of media reports had emerged with allegations of carrying out illegal off-the-air monitoring of call records of some senior officials and on March 5, media cell of the Army Headquarters issued a press release levelling serious allegations against him by name.
In his plea, Tejinder Singh had added he was also accused of managing media reports and was questioned for his alleged role in the purchase of off-the-air monitoring system.
He had said it was also alleged that he had purchased a flat in Mumbai's Adarsh Society and had offered bribe to the Army chief for swinging a sub-standard defence deal in favour of a private firm.
The Army chief had earlier claimed that a lobbyist, who had "just" retired, offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore for clearing a file relating to purchase of a tranche of 600 "sub-standard" TATRA trucks and he had immediately informed Defence Minister AK Antony about it. The CBI is presently probing the case, lodged on the basis of Army's chief allegations.