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Delhi Court Lifts Injunction On Book On Ramdev Titled “Godman To Tycoon: The Untold Story Of Baba Ramdev” [Read Judgment]

Court says it is pragmatic to protect the right to freedom of speech and expression

 A Delhi court has lifted the ban/ prohibition on publication and sale of a book on Yoga Guru Ramdev titled “Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev”, authored by Priyanka Pathak Narain and published by M/s Juggernaut Books.

Civil judge Jay Thareja lifted the ban on the book by setting aside the injunction order passed by a trial court in August 2017 saying that, “…it was/is inapposite to prohibit/ ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because of multiple reasons”.

The court was of the view that there was no sufficient ground for banning the sale or publication of the book which was already on sale and the copies of which sold before the injunction order can be re-sold or exchanged to be read by new persons while also observing that Ramdev had nowhere expressly pleaded that the book violated his right to privacy or identified parts of the book which violated his privacy.

It also held that Ramdev cannot claim that he is not a person of public interest as he has various books written on him on sale in the market including an authorized biography.

The court’s order lifting the ban came on an appeal moved by the author, who was represented by advocate Amit Agrawal and the publisher, who was represented by advocate Rajshekhar Rao and Satyajit Sarna.

The author and the publisher had challenged the order of the Commercial Civil Judge by which Ramdev’s application seeking a prohibition/ban on the publication and sale of the said book was allowed.

Agrawal contended during the hearing on the appeal that the trial court had passed the injunction order by ignoring the plea that the book is based on facts widely published in the media and that the court failed to give due credence that by permitting various previous publications qua his life, Ramdev has acquiesced in publication of material qua his life and conduct, including the book in question.

He also argued that the trial court failed to give due credence to the plea that Ramdev is a well known public figure, who can be subjected to public scrutiny and criticism and that the injunction order has been passed against the right of freedom of speech and right to freedom of trade and profession.

He argued that the facts and observations stated/made in the book are justifiable on the grounds of truth and fair comment while also challenging the observation of the trial court that the book should have been published with prior consent of Ramdev.

Ramdev had contested the appeal saying the trial court has rightly given more credence to his right to privacy and reputation than the publisher’s right to freedom of speech while adding that the book in question was based on unverified personal interviews, online articles etc and not public records and was in effect a biography published without his consent.

While setting aside the injunction granted by the trial court, Judge Jay Thareja rejected the author’s and publisher’s plea of institution of suit by Jaideep Arya on behalf of Ramdev as it noted that the latter had himself authorised the former to do so.

The court also noted that the suit was not properly valued.

Below are some of the important findings/ reasons of the court which lifted the ban on the book:

Firstly,it was/is inapposite to prohibit/ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because the book of the appellant (author) is already available in the market for reading by the public, on account of the publication and sale done by the respondent no.2, before passing of the ex­parte ad­interim injunction Order, by the Ld. Trial Court, on 04.08.2017. In my view, the said fact singularly tilts the balance of convenience in favour of appellant because:

(a) The damage, if any, to the reputation and the privacy of the respondent no.1 that has already occurred, on account of the books published and sold by the respondent no.2, in the market, before 04.08.2017 cannot be regulated by banning the publication and sale of the book of the appellant w.e.f. 04.08.2017,

(b) The damage, if any, that may occur to the reputation and privacy of the respondent no.1, in the future, can also not be effectively regulated by banning the publication and sale of the book of the appellant w.e.f. 04.08.2017, as the copies of book of the appellant, already published and sold by the respondent no.2 in the market, before 04.08.2017, will continue to be sold/re­sold/exchanged and be read by new persons. Further, in my view, the aforesaid fact makes it pragmatic for this Court, to protect the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to the appellant under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, which is the usual course of business, in suits like the present suit.

Secondly, in the facts and circumstances of this case, it was/is inapposite to ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because the pleadings in the plaint of the subject suit are incompetent and do not provide sufficient basis for seeking a prohibition/ban on the publication and sale of the book of the appellant.

The court noted that Ramdev has nowhere specifically pleaded in the plaint that any fact in the book of the appellant, is false and consequently defamatory qua his reputation.

It also noted that “the respondent no.1 has neither expressly pleaded that the book of the appellant violates his right to privacy nor identified the exact paragraphs/chapters of the book of the appellant, which violate his right to privacy. In my considered view, on account of the aforesaid deficiencies, the plaint of subject suit, as it stands today, certainly does not deserve grant of the interim prohibitory injunction/ban qua the publication and sale of the book of the appellant”.

The court also rejected Ramdev’s argument that since the entire book is defamatory and since the entire book violated his right to privacy, he cannot be expected to plead the entire book in the plaint. It noted that apart from the contentious pleadings made with respect to part of the book on his fallout with Acharya Karamveer, Ramdev had nowhere specifically pleaded in the plaint that any fact in the book is false or defamatory to his reputation. The court held that it is inconsistent with the settled principle of law that the pleadings in a plaint or a written statement have to be specific so that the opposite party gets a fair opportunity to prosecute or defence its case.

Thirdly, in the facts and circumstances of this case, it was/is inapposite to ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because the plea of the appellant that the facts and observations stated/made in the book of the appellant are justifiable on the grounds of truth, fair comment and fair reporting, although weak, is competent to present a defence qua the case of the respondent no.1, as narrated in the plaint of subject suit. In this regard, it is noteworthy that in the plaint of subject suit, the respondent no.1 has, in effect, only claimed the insinuations/conclusions in the book of the appellant to be defamatory and not raised any challenge qua the facts that have led the appellant to make said the insinuations/conclusions and that as such, only upon a thorough trial, it can be deciphered by the Ld. Trial Court, whether the insinuations/conclusions in the book of the appellant are defamatory or not.

Fourthly, in the facts and circumstances of this case, it was/is inapposite to ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because the plea of the respondent no.1 that he is not a person of public interest, is not borne from the plaint of the subject suit and because even otherwise, the said plea of the respondent no.1, is completely meritless. In regard to the latter reason, it is noteworthy that there are numerous books about the life of the respondent no.1, being published and sold in the market, including an authorized biography, “Swami Ramdev: Ek Yogi Ek Yodha”. Clearly, a person, who has permitted numerous books about his life to be published and sold in the market and who has an authorized biography being published and sold in the market, cannot claim that he is not a person of public interest because the very reason, a person permits such books to be published and sold in the market and permits his authorized biography to be published and sold in the market, is that the said person believes himself/herself to be a person of public interest.

Fifthly, in the facts and circumstances of this case, it was/is inapposite to ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant because the plea of the respondent no.1 that the book of the appellant violates his right to privacy, is not borne from the plaint of the subject suit. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the word ‘privacy’ does not feature anywhere in the plaint of the subject suit.

“Thus, on account of the aforesaid five reasons, it is held that prima facie, in the facts and circumstances of the present case, it was/is inapposite to prohibit/ban the publication and sale of the book of the appellant, till the final disposal of the subject suit,” the court concluded.

Read the Judgment Here

Image Courtesy:Juggernaut Books

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