The recent judgement of the Supreme Court in the K K Mishra case is a blow to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It may haunt the ruling BJP, particularly the Chief Minister, through the Assembly elections due in November this year. The apex court judgement is also a sad reflection on the session judge of Bhopal who had tried the case initially.
The case in nutshell is like this. K K Mishra, who is the chief spokesperson of the State Congress, had made the following observations at a press conference he had convened at the PCC office in June 2014: as many as 19 among the transport inspectors appointed by the State government were from Gondia (in Maharashtra) which is Chouhan’s sasural; Chouhan’s cousin Sanjay Singh had been talking on mobile to the accused in the mega-scam now known as Vyapam; and Chouhan’s wife, Sadhna Singh, had made 139 calls from the CM’s residence to the top Vyapam operators, Nitin Mahendra, Pankaj Trivedi and Laxmikant Sharma.
Chouhan took offence and filed, as Chief Minister, a defamation case against Mishra in the court of the Special Judge, Prevention of Corruption Act, Bhopal. After the sessions trial, the Judge, by its order of November 17, 2017, sentenced K K Mishra to undergo a simple imprisonment for two years with fine of Rs 25,000. Having failed to get a relief from the High Court, Mishra went in an appeal before the Supreme Court where the case was heard by a division bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi, R Banumathi and Mohan M Shantanagoudar.
The bench, in its judgement delivered on April 13, observed that ‘none of the said statements, even if admitted to have been made by the appellant (Mishra), can be said to have any reasonable connection with the discharge of public duties by or the office of the Hon’ble Chief Minister. The appointment of persons from the area/place to which the wife of the Hon’ble Chief Minister belongs and the making of phone calls by the relatives of the Hon’ble Chief Minister have no reasonable nexus with the discharge of public duties by or the office of the Hon’ble Chief Minister’.
The bench pointed out that such statements may be defamatory but in the absence of nexus between the same and the discharge of public duties of the office, the remedy provided for public servants under provisions of the Cr.P.C. would not be available. Chouhan, as individual, and not as Chief Minister, should have gone before the ordinary court (the court of the magistrate).
The bench said: The press meet was convened by the appellant (Mishra) on June 21, 2014. The government accorded sanction to the public prosecutor to file complaint under Section 500 IPC against the appellant on June 24, 2014. The complaint was filed by the public prosecutor against the appellant on the very same day, i.e. June 24, 2014. The haste with which the complaint was filed prima facie indicates that the public prosecutor may not have applied his mind to the materials placed before him. ‘We, therefore, take the view that the complaint is not maintainable on the very face of it and would deserve our interference.’
The apex court allowed Mishra’s appeal and quashed all proceedings in the trial court. Desperate State BJP has been trying to argue that the trial court order has been quashed by the Supreme Court only on technical grounds and that nothing has changed substantially. This is an utterly erroneous assertion. After the Supreme Court judgement, the situation now is the same as it was before Chouhan had filed the complaint against Mishra in the special court. If he still feels defamed by Mishra’s allegations, he will have to file a fresh complaint like an ordinary person in the court of judicial magistrate.