Journalist-turned-witness asks for reimbursement from court, denied

The Delhi High Court dismissed a plea by a journalist who took part in a sting operation conducted by Tehelka to expose wrongdoings in a purported arms deal, seeking direction to the government to adequately reimburse his expenses for appearing as a witness. Mathew Samuel conducted the sting ‘Operation West End’ for the web portal in May 2001 on former Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley and other government officials to expose corruption in defence deals.

Samuel, presently residing in Kerala, moved the high court saying that he had spent 11 years attending various courts, commissions of enquiry, departmental proceedings and court martial proceedings as a prosecution witness in 12 criminal cases registered by the CBI and also other proceedings. He claimed he had been paid ‘only a thin amount under the Delhi Criminal Court (payment of expenses to complainant and witnesses) Rules.’ Filling the plea, Samuel sought a direction to the centre and Delhi governments to pay expenses he had incurred in attending legal proceedings at various fora.

A division bench of Chief Justice D. Murugesan and Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, dismissing the plea of Samuel, said that he should have made the request to the concerned authority, seeking reimbursement of expenses for appearing as a witness.

The bench also denied him relief, saying he had not approached the court in the last 11 years. ‘For all these years, you were silent. Now you want a court order at this stage,’ the court said.

In his plea Samuel said the existing system of payment of expenses to the prosecution witness in criminal cases, commissions of enquiry, departmental proceedings and court martial proceedings is inadequate. His plea said, ‘the amount paid for expenses has no relationship with the actual expenses incurred by the witnesses.’

In his plea, Samuel also said that because of his daily attendance as a witness at different fora, he was not in a position to take up a job of permanent nature.

The case dates to 2001 when news portal carried out a sting operation that caught Laxman on camera receiving cash from a journalist posing as an arms dealer. He later resigned as the BJP president.
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