Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar convicted in 23-year-old Defamation case filed by VK Saxena; the Saket court sentenced Patkar to 5-month imprisonment

The Saket Court Metropolitan Magistrate Raghav Sharma also asked Patkar to pay 10 lakhs in damages to VK Saxena as the court held that the publications against VK Saxena were issued with intent to damage his public reputation

On July 1, the Saket Court judge Raghav Sharma sentenced Medha Patkar to 5 months in imprisonment and asked her to pay 10 lakhs in damages to VK Saxena, who is presently the Lieutenant General of Delhi and was at the time of filing the lawsuit the president of the National Council for Civil Liberties, an NGO based in Ahmedabad. The court said considering the health and age of Patkar, excessive punishment is not meted out and it suspended the sentence for 30 days to facilitate the appeal. Patkar is reportedly planning to appeal against the decision of the Saket court in the High Court. Notably, Patkar was convicted by the Saket Court on May 24 in the case filed under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which dealt with defamation and carried maximum punishment of two years imprisonment. While convicting Patkar, the verdict read “the defamatory statements made by the accused not only questioned his integrity and patriotism but also falsely associated him with activities contrary to his public stance. The accused failed to provide any evidence to counter these claims or to show that she did not intend or foresee the harm these imputations would cause.”


The case was first filed in 2001 in Ahmedabad by VK Saxena after Patkar issued a publication dated November 25, 2000, titled “true face of patriot”, insinuating Saxena’s involvement in Hawala transactions and close ties with Lalbhai Group and the state government of Gujarat. While Patkar was among the activists opposing the construction of dams on Narmada River, Saxena’s organisation, National Council of Civil Liberties, was involved in ensuring timely completion of Sardar Sarovar Dam, and further engaged on the issues pertaining to ‘public interest’ and unfair trade practices. Patkar’s press note, titled “true face of patriot”, read “V K Saxena, one who is pained by the Hawala transactions himself came to Malegaon, praised NBA and give a cheque of ₹40,000. Lok Samiti naively and promptly sent the receipt and the letter, which shows honesty and good record keeping than anything else. But the cheque could not be encashed and got bounced. On enquiry, the bank reported the account does not exist”. The press note also said the cheque came from Lalbhai Group, and asked “What is the connection between Lalbhai group and V.K Saxena? Who among them is more of a ‘patriot’?” The press release noted that it is an act of a coward, not a patriot, and further said “Not addressing the issues raised by movement for the last 15 years and coming up with fake stories, like Hawala transactions are examples for cowardliness and not of patriotism. One, Who is following the sordid tactics of government of Gujarat, its history of human rights from Dangs to Ambergaon, and mortgaging the people and their resources before Bill Gates and Wolfensohn, knows, who is behind him.”

The case was transferred from Ahmedabad to Delhi on the direction of the Supreme Court in 2003, and had been hanging since then. In 2011, Patkar pleaded not guilty and demanded a trial, following which the trial finally took place in the Saket trial Court. On May 24 this year, Patkar was held guilty under Section 500 the IPC (Defamation), and the quantum of punishment was decided on July 1. Pertinently, Patkar has decided to appeal against the decision of the trial court in the higher courts.

Conviction Order 

The Saket Court Metropolitan Magistrate Raghav Sharma in his order on May 24 argued that Patkar’s conduct and her publication against VK Saxena were defamatory as “her decision to label the complainant as a “coward” and “not a patriot” was a direct attack on his personal character and loyalty to the nation.” The verdict also stated that by “explicitly stating that the complainant was ‘pained with hawala transactions,’ she aimed to associate him with illegal and unethical financial dealings, thereby inflicting significant harm to his reputation and standing…without providing any substantive evidence…”. In addition, the court took objection to her allegation in the press note, which said that Saxena was hand-in-glove with the state government of Gujarat in mortgaging the people of Gujarat and their resources to Bill Gates and Wolfensohn. The order said the statement insinuated that Saxena “was betraying the trust of the people and compromising the state’s welfare for the benefit of foreign interests…was engaged in actions detrimental to the state and its citizens, thereby framing him as a traitor to public trust and interest” and constitutes “direct attack on his integrity and public service”.

 The court interpreted Patkar’s press note as charged with emotive language and remarked that the statements “were crafted not just to inform but to incite negative sentiments among the public, indicating a clear and malicious intent to defame.” It noted that the allegations pertain to sensitive issues such as financial misconduct, personal cowardice, and national loyalty, and were made with “calculated effort” to damage Saxena’s reputation. 

The verdict concluded that Patkar failed to provide any evidence to counter the claims of the complainant “or to show that she did not intend or foresee the harm these imputations would cause.” The trial court noted that it is “beyond reasonable doubt” that Patkar published the imputations with the intent to harm the reputation of the complainant and declared her guilty of defamation under Section 500 of the India Penal Code (IPC). Following her conviction on May 24, the trial court sentenced her to 5-months imprisonment on July 1 and additionally ordered her to pay 10 lakh rupees to VK Saxena as a reparation. 

The trial court order may be read here:



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