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Can't ask govt to withdraw army press release: HC

May 24, 2012 15:01 IST

The Delhi high court on Thursday refused to direct the Centre to take back a press release of the army alleging that Lieutenant General (retired) Tejinder Singh offered a bribe to the army chief in connection with a defence deal.

"The Union of India cannot be directed to disown or retract the aforesaid press release," Justice Mukta Gupta said while disposing off a petition by Tejinder Singh seeking withdrawal of the alleged defamatory press release.

The court also considered the reply of the ministry of defence -- that it had no role in the issuance of the March 5 press release as it was given out by the army headquarters.

The court, however, said that Tejinder Singh could make a representation before the authorities concerned seeking initiation of disciplinary proceedings against five army officials including Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh.

"Taking disciplinary action is part and parcel of the disciplinary authority. In case a representation is made for taking the action, the same would be considered by the authorities concerned," Justice Gupta said.

Former army officer Tejinder Singh had approached the high court seeking withdrawal of the press release of the army on the ground that it had violated his fundamental right to reputation.

The court did not agree with the plea after the Centre made it clear that it was not responsible for the actions of some army officials.

"It is a service matter and such kind of petition against the government is not maintainable," Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok said during the arguments.

Earlier, the court had asked Tejinder Singh to establish that the right to reputation falls under the ambit of the fundamental rights of the Constitution.

The court had said that prima facie it appeared that the writ petition was not maintainable as he had other civil and criminal remedies to seek redressal against the alleged defamation caused to him by the army's press release.

In the criminal writ petition filed through his counsel Anil K Aggarwal, Tejinder Singh had contended that the press release issued by senior army officials, including the army
chief, 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 General V K Singh, Tejinder Singh had named Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh, Lieutenant General B S Thakur (DGMI), Major General S L Narasimhan (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lieutenant Colonel Hitten Sawhney as accused in the case.

He had 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 had issued a press release levelling serious allegations against him by name.

In his plea, Tejinder Singh had said he was also accused of managing media reports and was questioned for his alleged role in the purchase of off-the-air monitoring system.

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 A K Antony about it.

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