Delhi HC pulls up activist Saket Gokhale for ‘vilifying’ diplomat Lakshmi Puri

Bench asks whether he will take down tweets referring to property purchased by her, he says no

The Delhi High Court on Thursday ticked off activist Saket Gokhale for his alleged defamatory tweets against former Indian diplomat Lakshmi Puri, while reserving its order for Tuesday in the suit filed by her for deletion of the tweets and a decree for Rs 5 crore damages. Gokhale refused to take down the tweets when asked by the court.

“How can you be vilifying people like this. Knock off these things from the website,” said Justice C Hari Shanker at the outset of hearing. “If you have a problem with the public functionaries, you must go to them first.”

Gokhale in his tweets last month had referred to a property purchased by Puri in Switzerland and raised questions regarding her and her husband Union Minister Hardeep Puri’s assets. He had also tagged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman in the tweets while seeking an ED inquiry.

Puri, who was the former Assistant Secretary-General at the United States, in her suit said the tweets are “maliciously motivated and designed accordingly, laced with canards and entail deliberate twisting of facts”.

Calling Gokhale a “thekedar of taking replies from public offices”, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, representing Puri, argued before the court that he has no business to question her and requested the court to make the case an example. Singh also argued that Gokhale was trying to increase his followers on Twitter for receiving crowdfunding.

Advocate Sarim Naved, representing Gokhale, told the court that his comments were based on the election affidavit of the union minister and argued that the Supreme Court has held that the assets of a candidate and their spouse are a matter for public comment. Naved submitted that he raised the issue because her assets far outstrip the declared income.

However, Justice Shankar questioned Gokhale for putting out the tweets “without verifying” the facts from her or first approaching the government authority. Before you throw mud at someone, you have to do an entire due diligence exercise, observed the court.

“According to your understanding of the law, anyone, any Tom, Dick and Harry can write anything about anyone on the website. Anyone can write anything vilificatory against anyone on the internet and there is no way the court can interfere with it at all irrespective of whether it completely damages the reputation of the person concerned. This is your understanding of the law,” it observed.

When Gokhale’s counsel in response to a question from the court submitted that he was a citizen, the court said that being a citizen does not mean he can damage the reputation of someone else. “Reputation has been held by the court to be a fundamental right, part of Article 21,” observed the court.

In the suit, Puri submitted that the debit incurred in purchase of the apartment was still being serviced and the information was submitted to her employer at the relevant time. Placing her financial details before the court, Puri has told the court that the apartment decided to be purchased in 2005 was priced 16,00,000 Swiss Franc and a sum of 6,00,000 CHF had become available to her from her daughter, a Senior Vice President with an an international investment bank, in two tranches. The balance amount was borrowed from a bank and is still being serviced, according to the suit.

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