"The careless king whom none reproves ruins himself sans harmful foes", the Madras High Court recently quoted Saint Thiruvalluvar, in quashing defamation proceedings against Congress MLA, S. Vijayadharani. It was alleged that she has defamed the then Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha in a public meeting held on September 27, 2015.
"In democracy a fair criticism of the government functioning is the catalyst for better administration", observed the Single Judge at the Madurai Seat of the High Court.
The petitioner, a sitting member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, had expressed her anguish regarding the opening of TASMAC shops by the Government in the public meeting held at Karungal Santhai Ground at Nagercoil. Aggrieved by the speech, the Public Prosecutor of the Kanyakumari District had presented the complaint on behalf of the Chief Minister under Section 199(2) of Cr.P.C. In the said complaint, it was claimed that the Chief Minister is held in high esteem by all sections of the public irrespective of race, religion, caste or community. It was pressed that the speech of the petitioner has harmed the reputation of the Chief Minister. The speech is found to harm the Chief Minister in respect of conduct in discharge of her public function.
Before the High Court, the petitioner contended that the speech made by her is no way near the definition of defamation and it was only the expression of her view about the affairs of the Government and as a member of Legislative Assembly and as political party representative, she has a right of expression guaranteed under the Constitution. It was urged that there is no malicious or defamatory or threat in her statement, which would attract Section 499 of IPC and she never had an intention to harm the reputation of the Chief Minister.
"The Supreme Court in the case of Subramanian Swamy Vs. Union of India, Ministry of Law and others, reported in 2016 (7) SCC 221, while upholding the constitutional validity of Section 499 of IPC has also held that balancing the fundamental right is constitutional necessity. The right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) subject to the restriction vis-a-vis right to reputation, which is facet of right under Article 21 ought to be balanced", noted the Single Bench.
The Court concluded that the reading of the speech extracted does not carry any sentence of defamation whatsoever.
"In this case, the alleged imputations squarely fall within the second exception in Section 499 of IPC", said the Judge.
The provision deals with "Public conduct of public servants", averring that "It is not defamation to express in a good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct, and no further."
"The complaint, which is mere extraction of the legal provision does not disclose the mens rea to harm the reputation of the Chief Minister", held the bench, quashing the defamation proceedings.
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