New Delhi: New Delhi: Former Army Chief Gen V K Singh and four top serving officers were today summoned as "accused" in a criminal defamation case filed by Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh, in perhaps the first occasion when top-ranking officials have been called by a court.

Besides Gen V K Singh, the other four named in the complaint and have been summoned are Vice Chief of Army Staff S K Singh, Lt Gen B S Thakur (DGMI), Major General S L Narshiman (Additional Director General of Public Information) and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney, accusing them of misusing their official positions, power and authority to level false charges against him.

A Delhi court directed them to appear before it on July 20.

Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja said all the five have been "summoned as accused in the present matter".

The court, however, said the summons are only for the alleged offence of defamation as the allegation of hatching a criminal conspiracy appears to be "absurd".

"However, it is made clear that the accused are not being summoned qua the allegation of hatching a criminal conspiracy against the complainant (Tejinder Singh).

"Upon appreciating the entire evidence and material produced before this court, the allegation regarding hatching of a criminal conspiracy by respondents appears to be absurd and without any foundation.

"The accused are only being summoned qua offence as described under section 499 (defamation) read with section 35 (act done with criminal knowledge or intention) of the IPC," the Magistrate said.

Tejinder Singh had filed the complaint alleging that he was defamed by the Army through its press release issued on March 5, which accused him of offering a bribe of Rs 14 crore to the erstwhile Army chief

The court directed Tejinder Singh to file a process fee along with copies of the complaint and documents within one week of the re-opening of the court on June 21.

"Upon filing of the process fee, copies of the complaints and the documents, the accused shall be summoned for July 20," the court said.

The court had earlier directed the Defence Ministry to place before it the file related to the issuance of the March 5 press release to ascertain whether or not, the five persons accused of defaming Tejinder Singh had any role in it.

Tejinder Singh had been accused of offering bribe of Rs.14 crore to Gen V K Singh for clearing a deal for 600 trucks, a charge strongly refuted by the former.

The press release blamed Tejinder Singh, former chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency, and some disgruntled serving officers of the Military Intelligence for planting story in the media relating to purported tapping of some sensisitive phones in the capital.

The file pertaining to the press release was submitted to the court by Defence Ministry's Under Secretary R Sunder. The court had also recorded his statement during an in-camera proceeding in which he said some of the documents placed were "privileged."

Earlier, the court had said it was "prima facie" satisfied that the March 5 press release was defamatory" as "ex-facie" serious allegation of "bribery" has been made against Tejinder Singh, who had a long and distinguished career in the Army.

In its three-page order, the court said that "complicity" of V K Singh in issuance of the March 5 press release was "prima facie deducible" from the fact that only he was aware about the alleged bribe offer to him by Tejinder Singh.

It said the "defamatory information" about the alleged bribe offer could not have been passed on to other co-accused if the then Army chief would not have told them about it.

"The complicity of respondent number 1 (V K Singh) in the publication of the press release dated March 5, 2012 is prima facie deducible from the fact that he alone had knowledge about the offer of bribe made by the complainant and without him having told the respondents number 4 and 5 (Narshiman and Sawhney) or any other person about the offer of bribe made by the complainant, the defamatory information about the complainant offering a bribe would not have percolated down to the respondents no 4 and 5," the court said.

It also referred to the May 4, 2012 letter issued by under secretary of the Ministry of Defence in which it was mentioned that the March 5 press release was issued with the approval from the "highest levels in the army".

"The complicity of respondent number 1 (V K Singh) is also prima facie deducible from the use of the words 'highest levels in the army' in the letter dated May 4, 2012, issued by R Sunder (under secretary of Ministry of Defence) and from the testimony of complainant that communications like the press release dated march 5, 2012 are issued following approval by a hierarchy, comprising the Chief of Army Staff (V K Singh), Vice Chief of the Indian Army (S K Singh), the head of Military Intelligence (B S Thakur), head of Public Information (Narshiman) and his subordinates (Sawhney)," the court said.

Detailing the role of S K Singh and B S Thakur, the court said that their "complicity" in the publication of March 5 press release is "also prima facie deducible from the use of the words 'highest levels in the army'" in the May 4 letter of the Ministry of Defence.

The court said the file of Ministry of Defence regarding publication of the March 5 press release "did not contain any office noting or copy of any rule regarding approval of the press release dated March 5 by the Chief of Army Staff, Vice Chief of the Indian Army and head of Military Intelligence."

"On account of the absence of any such office noting or copy of any rule, the testimony of the complainant has been believed at this stage, because being a former head of the Military Intelligence, complainant has knowledge/foundation to testify/depose about practice and procedures being followed at the Army Headquarters regarding publication of communications like the press release of March 5, 2012," it said.

The court said that after going through all the evidence placed before it during the proceedings, it has "sufficient material" to proceed against all the five.

"After deliberating upon the submissions made by advocate (for Tejinder Singh), perusing the evidence/material brought on record during the inquiry under Section 202 of the CrPC and studying the law, I find that now this court has sufficient material to proceed against all the respondents," the magistrate said.

After pronouncement of the order, Tejinder Singh outside the courtroom, said, "It is a sad event that the ex Army Chief and other top serving officials of the Army are being summoned in a defamation case."

He also said that in India, it does not matter how high a person is placed but if he has done something wrong, law will take its course against him.

"It is sad for me also as I am a part of Army. They did something wrong and law has finally caught them.

The charge of defamation, if proved, entails a simple imprisonment for two years, or fine, or both.

The former army chief and other officers have now the option of either appearing before the magistrate or challenge the issue of summons by way of revision petition under Section 399 CrPC before the sessions judge or the Delhi High Court as per Section 400 Cr PC.

When contacted, the Defence Ministry and Army authorities refrained from commenting on the issue as the matter was subjudice, while Gen (retd) Singh was unavailable for comments.

(Agencies)

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