The Delhi high court on Monday refused to stay the trial court's summons to three Army officers on Lieutenant General (retired) Tejinder Singh's criminal defamation complaint, accusing them of misusing their official positions and power to level false allegations against him.
Disposing of the pleas of Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh, Major General S L Narshiman and Lieutenant Colonel Hitten Sawhney against the trial court, Justice Bhasin asked the three officers to raise before the magisterial court their contentions that prior sanctions for their prosecution was not obtained.
Justice P K Bhasin said, "The court disposed of the petition after the counsel for both parties agreed that the issue of sanction under 197 Cr PC can be allowed to be raised by the petitioner before the magistrate, where the matter is pending."
The court also clarified in its order that the magistrate can hear the issue of sanction after the petitioners appear before it on the date fixed by it.
"The court clarified that the magistrate shall decide their application on the question of sanction (to be) raised by the petitioners after they appear before it, in accordance with the law without being influenced by the order passed by this court..."
The court also granted liberty to the petitioners to seek appropriate remedy if the magistrate refuses to hear their pleas or passes any adverse order against them.
"If the trial court itself feels that it cannot reconsider the issue in accordance with the law, the parties are at liberty to seek legal remedy against the trial court's conclusion," the court said.
Clarifying further, the high court said even the trial court's May 18 order on the issue of sanction for prosecution will not come in its way in the Army officer's plea against their prosecution without prior sanction.
The trial court had earlier said the Army officer cannot seek the benefit of Section 197 (2) of CrPC at this stage.
The legal provision prohibits a court from taking cognisance of any offence, allegedly committed by any member of the armed forces, while discharging his official duty.
The court had said a final decision regarding their entitlement to immunity under this provision could be decided "only once the respondents enter appearance and lead evidence in their defence."
To Tejinder Singh's submission that the high court should not allow them any exemption, Justice Bhasin said, "I am not accepting their prayer for exemption."
The court, however, asked the complainant (Tejinder Singh) not to raise any objection to their application before the trial court.
On June 8, the trial court had summoned former Army Chief General V K Singh and four top serving officers as "accused" in a criminal defamation case filed by Lieutenant General (Retired) Tejinder Singh.
Besides General V K Singh, the other four named in the complaint are Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh, Lieutenant General B S Thakur (DGMI), Major General S L Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lieutenant Colonel Hitten Sawhney, accusing them of misusing their official positions, power and authority to level false charges against him.
The court had directed them to appear before it on July 20.
The trial court had earlier directed the defence ministry to place before it the file related to the issuance of the March 5 press release to ascertain whether or not the five persons accused of defaming Tejinder Singh had any role in it.
Tejinder Singh had been accused of offering a bribe of Rs 14 crore to General V K Singh for clearing a deal for 600 trucks, a charge strongly refuted by the former.
The press release had blamed Tejinder Singh, former chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency, and some disgruntled serving officers of the Military Intelligence for planting stories in the media related to purported tapping of some sensitive phones in the capital.