Meghalaya govt files defamation case against TMC’s Saket Gokhale

Shillong: The Meghalaya government has filed a criminal defamation suit against TMC spokesperson Saket Gokhale for making “deliberate, derogatory and malicious” claims that a state-owned tourism firm misappropriated over Rs 630 crore funds.

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It also called Gokhale a “habitual offender” with a history of making false allegations against public personalities and government officials.

The Planning Department, in a statement, said the Meghalayan Age Limited (MAL) has filed a criminal defamation suit against Gokhale.

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“The Meghalayan Age Limited has filed the complaint and sought remedies in the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, East Khasi Hills District, Meghalaya…seeking prosecution of the accused Mr Saket Gokhale for the offence of criminal defamation…for making false and defamatory statements in the print/electronic media.

“Further, as per the petition, the statements made by the accused also constitute an offence of public mischief,” it said.

The statement said MAL, a state government-owned firm constituted under the Planning Department, has been incorporated under relevant laws with its mandate to implement externally-aided projects, promote tourism and preserve the heritage of Meghalaya.

Terming Gokhale a “habitual offender”, the statement said the person has “little regard” for the process of law and has a “history of making false and baseless allegations” against public personalities and government officials.

Noting that the Delhi High Court had in 2021 made strong observations against him for making similar defamatory allegations against civil servants, the statement said, “Gokhale should have carried out preliminary due diligence and sought clarifications from the person against whom the allegations were made.”

“A basic attempt to seek clarification from the Meghalayan Age Limited would have shown that the allegations are baseless without any merit,” the statement read.

The Planning Department said “false and defamatory allegations” against the Meghalayan Age Limited can adversely affect the future prospects of mobilising projects from bilateral and multilateral organisations.

“This would seriously affect the developmental strategy of the state which is to raise additional investments through externally aided projects for the creation of jobs and the promotion of economic opportunities in the state,” he said.

The statement said that the state government is also considering filing a civil defamation suit against the individual concerned and other entities for making “completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous allegations”.

Gokhale had issued a press statement on December 4, alleging that MAL had misappropriated over Rs 630 crore in the state.

Reacting to the suit, Leader of Opposition and TMC leader Mukul Sangma said that the state government should come clean on the allegation and not “hide behind legal intervention”.

“What is the intention of the state government: to hide behind legal intervention or come clean on the alleged irregularities in the implementation of the Meghalaya Ecotourism Infrastructure Development Project? If there are allegations, should the government hide behind legal intervention?” he said.

Noting that “truth shall prevail”, he asserted that “corrupt practices of the current dispensation will be further exposed”.

“There is nothing new in the response of the government as it has always been in the denial mode whenever it comes to any instance of alleged irregularities,” he added.

The Meghalaya Ecotourism Infrastructure Development Project is an Rs 824-crore initiative implemented by MAL to develop ecotourism hubs, construct and upgrade roads, ropeways and bridges and create basic tourist accommodation.

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