The Delhi high court on Tuesday issued summons to former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, his son Aaditya Thackeray and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut on a defamation suit filed by MP Rahul Ramesh Shewale for allegedly levelling frivolous corruption allegations against him and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction.
Justice Prateek Jalan asked Uddhav, Aaditya and Raut to file their written submissions within 30 days after service of summons.
The high court also asked Google and Twitter to file their written statements within 30 days on the plea. It also issued notice to the defendants on the interim plea seeking removal of the alleged defamatory content from social media platforms.
The judge, who refused to pass any interim order at this stage, said, "I would like to give them an opportunity to respond and keep it on a short date for further proceedings...These are political fights going on..."
Justice Jalan, who posted the matter for further hearing on April 17, said, "I don't want to enter into a prima facie finding at this stage, I want to give him an opportunity to respond."
Shewale was represented through senior advocates Rajiv Nayar and Arvind Verma and lawyers Chirag Shah and Utsav Trivedi.
In the suit, Shewale sought permanent injunction and damages against the defendants, on account of alleged false, malicious and unsubstantiated allegations made and circulated on social media platforms and other offline and online media.
He said the allegations are libellous, unfounded and misconceived, tainted with collateral objectives which were made knowingly and deliberately to harm the dignity of the plaintiff and his political party.
"The present plaint demonstrates that the defendant no. 1 to 3 have conspired with each other and with other unknown individuals/ organisations to launch a series of scathing and belligerent attacks against the plaintiff and the political party which the plaintiff belongs to, that is, Shiv Sena, with the oblique motive to malign, defame and injure the plaintiff's reputation based on a series of blatant falsehoods and gross misrepresentations," the plea said.
During the hearing, Nayar said that the defendants have made allegations against institutions like the Election Commission.
To this, the court said that institutions will have to stand up for themselves.
"Election Commission's shoulders are broader to take this like courts. People say all kinds of things about courts also," the judge remarked and added "Are you asking for an injunction against someone for saying something about the Election Commission."
The senior counsel contended that the allegations are without any basis and should shock the conscience of the court.
"The question is not whether it (the allegations) shocks my conscience or not. The question is, in a free market place of ideas, are people entitled to say things which shock my conscience," Justice Jalan said.
The high court said it was not condoning the language used or the allegations made and added that it was not commenting whether the allegations are right or wrong or in good taste or bad and want the affidavits of defendants on record.
"I don't want to pass a gag order on day one without hearing the other side, an injunction against free speech in a political fight," the judge said.
To this, the plaintiff's counsel said he was not asking for a gag order and he was only asking that they should refrain from making such defamatory statements.
As the court refused to pass any ex-parte order, Nayar said did not press for ad interim order at the ex-parte stage and said he would seek the relief after defendants make appearance.