NEW DELHI: Journalists Tarun Tejpal, Anirudh Behl, Mathew Samual and M/S Tehelka.Com have been ordered by the Delhi high court to pay Rs 2 crore as damages to now retired Army officer Major General MS Ahluwalia in a defamation case.

Tehelka had published an “expose” in 2001 stating that Ahluwalia was allegedly involved in corruption in defence deals.
The retired Army officer told the court he had suffered “loss of reputation” due to the “sting” carried out by the news portal.

Scar to reputation: Delhi HC
Justice Neena Bansal Krishna, while deciding the lawsuit, noted that the plaintiff’s reputation has suffered as he not only faced a “lowering of estimation in the eyes of the public” but his character also got maligned with serious allegations of corruption “which no subsequent reputation can redress or heal”.
Stating that there can’t be a more blatant case of causing serious harm to the reputation of an honest army officer, the court further noted that much time has passed and the plaintiff has already lived with ill fame for more than 23 years.
Considering the enormity of the nature of defamation, an apology at this stage is not only inadequate but is meaningless, the court said.
“Truth is considered to be the best vindication against slander as wisely quoted by Abraham Lincoln. Yet, truth lacks the potency to restore the reputation that one loses in eyes of a society which is always quick to judge. The disconsolate reality is that wealth lost can always be earned back; howbeit, the scar to one’s repute once etched in the soul, yields nothing but forlorn even if millions are granted in reparation,” the court said.
In the 48-page verdict, the court rejected the defence of “truth”, “public good” and “good faith” pleaded by the defendants and said there could not be a worse defamation to a person of integrity than a “false imputation of him having demanded and then accepted bribe of Rs 50,000”.
Sting operation
According to the suit, Tarun Tejpal, the proprietor of Tehelka.Com, was responsible for managing the release of news items/articles on the news portal.
The report had alleged that when an undercover journalist approached Ahluwalia posing as a defence contractor, the officer had demanded Rs 10 lakh and a bottle of Blue Label whiskey as a bribe for any defence deal nod. It further alleged that Ahluwalia had accepted a token bribe of Rs 50,000.
In the suit, the Army officer claimed the alleged tape containing the conversation between him and the reporter has been tampered with and doctored to manipulate the recording and selective portions had been deleted and editorial comments had been added which were not substantiated by facts.
The Army also took serious note of the telecasted video tape and ordered a Court of Inquiry into this issue. The plaintiff was summoned in the Court of Inquiry and his military reputation and honour had been tarnished and put under a cloud of suspicion, stated the suit. Although no misconduct was proved against the plaintiff, “serious displeasure” was issued against him by the Army.
The court, however, said the plaintiff was not able to prove any act of defamation on the part of Zee Telefilm Ltd and its officials by telecasting the story in question following an arrangement with the news portal.
(With inputs from agencies)

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