New Delhi: The controversy surrounding the coal scam is a matter of public and national interest and readers have a right to know about it, a Delhi court on Friday said while rejecting a plea of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd seeking criminal defamation proceedings against a media group.

The court observed that defamation law cannot be used as a “weapon to silence the critics” and the court has to protect the media which has a “moral, legal and social duty to perform.”

“In the present case, whether the Ministry of Coal adhered to fair practices in allocation of coal blocks to companies or was guided by some other extraneous factors is a matter of public and national interest as the hard-earned money of the tax payers as well as valuable natural resources of the country are involved,” Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha said.

It said “readers have a right to know regarding the entire controversy surrounding the allocation of coal blocks and it “cannot be scuttled by the courts” as the media, being the fourth pillar of the Constitution, plays a vital role in forming public opinion or exposing corrupt practices.

Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) had filed a criminal defamation case against a media group, its editor-in-chief, editor and publisher claiming that they had published news items and defamed them by making “false, malicious and per se defamatory allegations”.

Congress MP Naveen Jindal is the Chairman of JSPL.

In its complaint, JSPL said the CAG, in its report on coal blocks allocation, has mentioned about 57 blocks, out of which only four blocks were allotted to JSPL and its associate firms but the CAG “did not find anything against the complainant or its management including Naveen Jindal.”

It claimed the media group published news articles containing “false statements” against them without any basis and did not seek any verification from it.