Delhi HC raps NDTV for wasting its time, dismisses Rs25 crore defamation case against MJ Akbar
In a strongly worded order, the Delhi High Court had lambasted New Delhi Television Ltd (NDTV) for wasting the Court’s time for almost seven years. The Court, while dismissing the Rs25 crore defamation suit filed by NDTV against MJ Akbar, also came down heavily on counsels of both parties for repeated adjournments.
In an recent order, Justice Rajiv Sahai says, "The plaintiff (NDTV) in the present case appears to have woken up from its slumber insofar as the present suit is concerned, only on realising that the game of 'tarikh pe tarikh', which it had been playing, was about to come to an end. Need was then felt to file the Chamber Appeal along with application for condonation of delay so that the game can continue."
"I have also enquired from the counsel for the plaintiff with respect to the first and the third arguments urged by him, whether a litigant, by paying court fees of lacs of rupees, gets a right to purchase the time of the Court. Obviously, no answer in the affirmative could be given. Thus, the argument urged of 'no prejudice will be caused to anyone' is of no avail. Prejudice is indeed suffered by the Court, which incurs cost of thousands of rupees for each listing of a case. Prejudice is also suffered by the Court by such cases adding to the inventory of the Court and being shown as arrears of pendency in the Court and bringing a bad name to the Court. Prejudice is also suffered by other litigants pursuing or defending their bona fide disputes in the Court and who, owing to such non-serious litigants as the parties herein are, are unable to get expeditious listings as they deserve. Such conduct of litigants is thus affecting the administration of justice. The argument of 'none suffering prejudice' is again self-centred and forgetting that the Courts are public institutions and not fiefdom of the rich who can afford to inflate their claims," the Court said.
Mr Akbar had authored and published an article titled, NDTV-ICICI Loan Chicanery Saved Roys" on 5 December 2010 the website of the Sunday Guardian. This followed by some more articles, after which NDTV filed a defamation suit against Mr Akbar and others demanding damages of Rs25 crore.
While the hearing was going on from one date to another, the Court observed that counsels of both parties were merely attending the dates of hearing and sought next date for hearing. The Court observed, "Surprisingly, the counsel for the defendants also played along and neither made a statement that there was no need for the defendants to lead evidence and the suit be listed before the Court for dismissal, nor took any steps in this regard after 29 January, 2016."
This was repeated even when the counsels were talking about a possible settlement out of the Court.
Justice Sahai stated, "...I may add that just like the Court, even under Order XXIII Rule 3 of the CPC is not bound to put its seal of approval to a compromise arrived at between the parties and is entitled to refuse the same if finds the same to be unlawful, so is the Court not bound to keep on allowing adjournments or not to close the right of any party to lead evidence, merely on the ground that the other party has been agreeing thereto. I reiterate that procedure and time of the Court is not for sale and is not to be regulated by the litigants but is to be regulated by the Court."
"The plaintiff (NDTV), owing to the defendants also cooperating with the plaintiff, has already availed undue eleven opportunities spanning over three years four months and 26 days for leading its evidence, when ordinarily not more than two or three opportunities are given. Though, such cooperation of defendants earned the plaintiff extra time and opportunities but cannot earn the plaintiff endless time as the plaintiff expects. The Court, before closing the right of plaintiff, had repeatedly cautioned the plaintiff, by imposing costs or by making the opportunity a 'last and final one' and was not required to do any further."
The High Court then dismissed the defamation suit and Chamber Appeal. "As aforesaid, the onus of all the issues was on the plaintiff and which the plaintiff has failed to discharge; resultantly, the suit of the plaintiff has to be dismissed and is dismissed. Owing to the conduct of the defendants already noticed above, the defendants are not entitled to any costs," the Court said in its order.