16. Answer to the question depends upon the facts. If the respondent is the person who either made or published the defamatory imputation, he would be liable for punishment under Section 500 IPC. If he is the person who “printed” the matter within the meaning of the expression under Section 501 IPC. Similarly to constitute an offence under Section 502 IPC, it must be established that the respondent is not only the owner of the newspaper but also sold or offered the newspaper for sale.
17. We must make it clear that for the acts of printing or selling or offering to sell need not only be the physical acts but include the legal right to sell i.e. to transfer the title in the goods – the newspaper. Those activities if carried on by people, who are employed either directly or indirectly by the owner of the newspaper, perhaps render all of them i.e., the owner, the printer, or the person selling or offering for sale liable for the offences under Sections 501 or 502 IPC, (as the case may be) if the other elements indicated in those Sections are satisfied.
18. Whether the content of the appellant’s complaint constitutes an offence punishable under any one or all or some of the abovementioned sections was not examined by the High Court for quashing the complaint against the respondent. So we need not trouble ourselves to deal with that question. We presume for the purpose of this appeal that the content of the appellant’s complaint does disclose the facts necessary to establish the commission of one or all of the offences mentioned above. Whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of the respondent for any one of the abovementioned three offences is a matter that can be examined only after recording evidence at the time of trial. That can never be a subject matter of a proceeding under Section 482 Cr.P.C.
19. From the judgment under appeal, it appears that before the High Court it was argued on behalf of the respondent that there is no vicarious liability in criminal law and therefore the owner of a newspaper cannot be prosecuted for the offences of defamation.
“2. The learned counsel for the petitioner would point out that there can be no vicarious liability insofar as the criminal law is concerned. The complainant’s allegation of the defamatory material published in the newspaper against him, even if it is established, can only be sustained against the editor of the newspaper and not the owner of the newspaper. The petitioner admittedly was the owner. The newspaper carries a legend that the newspaper is edited and published on behalf of the petitioner and there is no dispute in this regard.”
20. It appears from para 3 of the judgment that the appellant herein submitted in response to the above extracted contention of the respondent that the question is no longer res integra and is covered by a judgment of this Court in K.M. Mathew v. K.A. Abraham & Others, (2002) 6 SCC 670. The High Court rejected the submission holding:
“…….it is however noticed that the said decision was in respect of a managing editor, resident editor or a chief editor of respective newspaper publications, who were parties therein.
Therefore, at the outset, it can be said that the said case could be distinguished from the case on hand, as, the petitioner is not claiming as an editor, who had any role in the publication of the newspaper. Therefore, it is a fit case where the petition should be allowed.”
The High Court concluded that prosecution of the respondent would lead to miscarriage of justice. A conclusion without any discussion and without disclosing any principle which forms the basis of the conclusion.