1. This Appeal has been filed against the judgment and decree dated 22.7.1993 passed in T.S. No. 97/91 by the learned Asstt. District Judge No. 1, Guwahati. By the impugned judgment and decree, the learned Asstt. District Judge decreed the suit for an amount of Rs. 50,00,000.
2. The suit was filed by the respondent No. 1 who was earlier the Chief Minister of Assam claiming that he was defamed by an Article published in 'Illustrated Weekly of India' Weekend December 8-9/ 91.
That Article is quoted below:
"Money and Muscle power
The leadership of Prafulla Kr. Mahanta, deposed Chief Minister of Assam, is under serious threat from an influential sectiion of the Asom Gana Parishad, following the imposition of President's rule. Since 1985, Mahanta had remained not only the Chief Minister but also the President of the AGP.
The happiest person in the wake of the presidential proclamation of November 28 'overthrowing' the AGP government was Home Minister Bhrigu Phukan, according to
reliable sources have, Phakan and Mahanta shared a troubled relationship since 1987 when serious differences cropped up between the two, Phukan is reported to have commented recently; "Prafula has dug his own grave by patronising ULFA and inviting Central rule".
Significantly, Phukan not only enjoys the support of sizeable numbers of AGP legislators and party leader but AGP M. Ps too. This group is determined to challenge Mahahta's leadership in the AGPs organistaional election scheduled for January.
Phukan has described the AGP government as the 'most' corrupts regime in the country in his conversion with loyalists. He had dubbed Mahanta the country's most inefficient' Chief Minister who 'survived for five years with the help of money and muscle power'. Phukan, who enjoy the cleanest reputation among AGP ministers and leaders, has also accused Mahanta of rewarding 'corrupt and immoral' cabinet colleagues.
Phukan claims that he possesses official correspondence which proves that several ministers and senior AGP leaders obstructed the home minister each time from action was contemplated against ULFA. In the 1985 polls, the AGP won only 71 of the 120 seats in the assembly. With fighting reaching new heights, it is not clear whether the AGP will be able to match even its 1985 performance when electipn are finally held."
3. It is stated herein that when this article was published whose name was mentioned as the source of the article, he wrote a letter dated 13.12.1999 denying his involvement in the article. He has also denied the following statements "Prafulla has dug his own grave by partonising ULFA and inviting Central rule" and "also that AGP Government as the most corrupt regime in the country". He even by this letter stated that he never met Mr. Abdi during his visit to Guwahati. Thereafter the suit was filed on the ground that the reputation of the plaintiff was harmed and injured by that article. There was also a request to publish this letter on the next issue in the News paper by Sri Bhrigu Kr. Phukan but the same was not done.
4. The allegation made in the Plaint in paragraph 10 wherein is stated inter alia are as follows :
"10..... The serious allegations and imputations made against the plaintiff in the said article have created a bad feeling among the general public against the plaintiff and have also damaged
his name, fame and reputation. The said article had contained serious baseless, imaginary and concocted allegations against the plaintiff and the same amounts to defamation."
5. Notice was issued to the defendants and Mr. P. Pathaik and Mr. R.K. Jain appeared by filing two vakalatnarnas for all the defendants. But after filing of the Vakalatnamas the defendants did not file any W.S. and as such, the suit proceeded exparte and on 16.9.1992 the plaintiff examined himself as a witness. He exhibited the article written in the Newspaper as well as the letter written by Sri Bhrigu Kr. Phukan and he deposed regarding the loss of reputation suffered by him. He deposed that on December 8.9.1990 published the article in the 'Illustrated Weekly of India' with the heading of 'Money and Muscle Power' with some false and defamatory allegation with an intention to lower the reputation and prestige of the plaintiff and this article was widely circulated in India in other Newspapers to damage/tarnish the image of the parties as well as the plaintiff. The learned Asstt. District Judge on consideration of the materials on record came to a finding that the article is per se defamatory and thereafter assessed the compensation at Rs. 50,00,000 and accordingly decreed the suit. Hence the appeal.
6. We have heard Mr. B.P. Katakey, learned counsel for the appellant and Mr, S.K. Medhi for respondent No. 1 and Mr. H.N. Sarma, learned Sr. Counsel for respondent Nos. 2 and 3.
7. The law regarding defamation is now well settled. The law is that in order to be defamatory a publication must tend to lower the plaintiff in the opinton of men whose standard of opinion the Court can properly recognise, or tend to induce them to entertain an ill opinion of him. However, the plaintiff need not show a tendency of the imputation to prejudice him in the eye of every one in the community or all of his assiciates, but it is suffice to establish that the publication tends to lower him in the estimation of a substantial, respectable group, even though they are a minority of the total community or of the plaintiffs associates. The law relating to defamation is a limitation upon the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and of the press, and the vagaries and complex structure of such law, as it exists today, is to a large extent a direct result of the friction between them, as a restriction on untrammeled freedom of expression, and the highly cherished rights of freedom of speech and of the press. The question of reputation and how it is cherished by a person that came up for consideration before the Apex Court in Kiran Bedi & Jinder Singh v. Committee of Inquiry (SC-714) where the Supreme Court quoted Bhagwad Gita and pointed out "Akirtinchapi Bhutani Kathaishyanti te a vyayam,
Sambhavitashya Chakirtir Maranadatricchyate (Men will recount they perpetual dishonour, and to one highly esteemed, dishonour exceedeth death.)
8. In paragraph 24 of the judgment the Supreme Court pointed out as follows:
"24 .... The right to the enjoyment of a good reputation is a valuable privilege, of ancient origin, and necessary to human society, as stated in Libel and Slander Section 4 and this right is within the constitutional guarantee of personal security as stated in Constitutional Law. Section 205, and a person may not be deprived of this right through falsehood and violence without liability for the injury as stated in libel and slander Section 4"
9. In paragraph 25 of the Judgment the Supreme Court quoted American Law Reports - 55 page 171 in D.F. Marion v. Davis and pointed out as follow : "25. The right to enjoyment of a private reputation, unassailed by malicious slander is of ancient origin, and is necessary to human society. A good reputation is an element of personal security, and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty and property."
So we find that the learned Assstt. District Judge is correct in holding that the Article published (quoted above) is defamatory in nature and harmed the reputation of the plaintiff.
10. The only defence in such a situation is that if such statement is correct he is not liable, but he had to do so by filing a written statement to establish it as the burden being on him but in the present case the defendants did not file written statement and did not adduce any evidence in support of the article published.
11. The next question is that what would be the amount of compensation. In deciding the question of compensation in such a situation the Court must take into consideration the following things:
(1) the conduct of the plaintiff;
(2) his position and standing;
(3) the nature of libel;
(4) the absence or refusal of any retraction or apology ; and
(5) the whole conduct of the defendant from the date of publication of libel to the date of decree ;
12. This aspect of the matter is no longer res integra and was considered in a large number of cases. In the case of State of Sabah
in Malasia, a libellious article was published against the plaintiff who was the Chief Minister of State of Sabha in Malasia. The defamatory article was in a book published and authorised by the first defendant relating to the plaintiff's conduct in acquiring the site of the building for his party headquarters of which he was the President by exchanging prime timber land with the owner of the site. It was alleged that by this exchange the plaintiff acquired 50% of the share of the building, the other 50% being held by another members of the family. It was also alleged that on his 50th birth he had received gifts amounting to $ 3.4 millions and his wife was presented with a necklace worth $ 1.5 million. The last article described the un-Islamic attitude of the Plaintiff in choosing a Friday, a Muslim holy day to declare open a Chinese temple, an action ill-befitting of a Muslim leader. The Court came to a finding that the defendant No. 1 had in motive in publishing the libel just before the general election, it can only be motivated by malice and the libels were perpetrated for political and financial gains. They have taken advantage of the situation by depicting the plaintiff in the worst possible light. They acted deliberately and recklessly not carrying for the truth nor the distress it would cause and the harm that would be inflicted on the personal and political reputation of the plaintiff.
13. As pointed out by Salmond damages are of four kinds :
(1) nominal or real;
(2) real damages ;
(3) general or special damages ;
(4) compensatory, aggravated and exemplary damages ;
There are number of cases on this point. The following decisions are look at by us :
(1) AIR - 1957 (K.P. Narayanan v. Mahendra Singh),
(2) AIR, 1961 - 254 (Narayanan v. Narayana) and
(3) AIR 1956 Nag-146.
14. Considering all the aspects of the matter and considering the evidence on record, we allow this appeal in part and reduce the amount of damages to Rs. 5,00,000 (Rupees five lakhs).
The appeal shall stand dismissed otherwise save and except the modification as indicated above.