Recently, a City Civil and Sessions Court in Bengaluru directed former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda to pay rupees Two crore as compensation to Nandi Infrastructure Corridor enterprises (NICE) for the destruction caused due to his “defamatory statement” against the firm in an interview in a Kannada news channel 10 years ago.
To understand the case it gets imperative for us to understand the law of defamation and some landmark judgments related to it.
According to Section 499 of IPC (Indian Penal Code) defamation is said to happen when a person’s verbal or non-verbal language, written or oral statement causes harm to another’s reputation.
But Section 499 also has ten exceptions to it.
1. Truth for Public Good– Verified information that is aimed to ensure public welfare won’t be considered defamation.
2. Fair criticism of public servants- The criticism of public servants does not come under the ambit of defamation.
3. Fair comment on public conduct of public men other than public servants-Opinion on the conduct of people performing public functions won’t be covered under defamation.
4. Report of proceedings of Courts of justice- Published court proceedings won’t be liable for the act of defamation.
5. Comment on cases- Comments on any case being heard in the court won’t be considered under defamation.
6. Literary Criticism- Book reviews, theatre reviews and music reviews do not account for defamation.
7. Censure passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another- Censure upon conduct of a person won’t be liable for the act of defamation when one has lawful authority over the person censure is applied upon.
8. Complaint to Authority- Accusation under lawful authority won’t be liable to defamation.
9. Imputation made in good faith by a person in protection of one’s interests- Imputation made in good faith to protect one’s interests won’t account to defamation.
10. Caution in Good faith- Cautious statement made for the good of a person or to ensure public welfare won’t be considered under defamation.
Section 500, elucidates the punishment for defamation, and reads: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Libel and Slander are two forms through which a defamatory statement can be made.
- Libel– The defamatory statements in writing or made through graphics.
- Slander– The act of defamation through spoken words, gestures, etc.
In India, both libel and slander are criminal offences under Section 499 and defamation is both a civil and criminal offense.
The Law of Torts acts as an antidote for civil defamation and the defamed person can demand for damages done to him/her. Further, under section 500 of the IPC, a person guilty of criminal defamation can be sent to jail for two years.
The sections of IPC dealing with defamation have been challenged and questioned on the grounds that these violate the fundamental rights of an individual. Considering Section 499 of IPC as prima facie infringement of Freedom of Speech and expression, the petitioner in the present case challenged the constitutionality of Section 499 in the apex court.
Supreme Court’s Opinion On The Law Of Defamation
The Supreme Court in its judgment given on May 13, 2016 in Subramanian Swamy V ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid and are not in conflict with the right to free speech.
The court clarified that rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) are subject to reasonable restrictions. The Apex Court also made it clear that restrictions should not be excessive; they should work for public welfare. Further, Article 21 has granted the right to life to a citizen and ensures one’s reputation is not maligned in the eyes of right-thinking people of the society.
The August 2020 judgment of Prashant Bhushan Case is a very famous case of defamation, which initiated proceedings of contempt of court against Prashant Bhushan and he was directed to give a fine of 1 Rupee.
Story of the present case-
Referring to the interview in a Kannada news channel under the caption “Gowdara Garjane” on June 28, 2011 former PM HD Deve Gowda was alleged to have made ‘defamatory comments’ against the company and its promoter and managing director Ashok Kheny.The court in the case directed former PM to pay damages of Rs two crore to the company for the “loss of its reputation”.
The company alleged that the accusations made upon them by Former PM were false and inaccurate. Further, the court winded up the case with Mr Gowda’s failure to prove his allegations against the firm.
The court further opined, “The project undertaken by the plaintiff Company is a massive project – which is in the larger interest of the State of Karnataka. Hence, if defamatory statements like the present one are allowed to be made in future, implementation of such a massive project like the present one which is undertaken in the larger public interest of the State of Karnataka is going to be delayed. Therefore, this Court feels that it is necessary to curb such statements by issuing a permanent injunction against the defendant.”