1. This appeal is filed by original defendant 1 challenging the judgment and decree dt. 22-9-1977 passed by the Civil Judge, Senior Division, Bhandara decreeing the claim of the original plaintiff for Rs. 3100/- on account of damages for defamation against him with proportionate costs of the suit.
2. The plaintiff at relevant times was Block Development Officer at Tirora. The defendant 1 is the proprietor, Editor, Printer and Publisher of Local Marathi Weekly 'Tirora Times' published from Tirora. The defendant 2 is an agriculturist. The defendant 3 was the Chairman, Panchayat Samiti, Tirora. The defendant 1 published in his said newspaper articles making serious allegations and imputations against the plaintiff on 12-5-1971, 26-5-1971, 2-6-1971, 23-6-1971, 30-6-1971, 14-7-1971, 28-7-1971 and 4-8-1971. The plaintiff served the defendants with registered notice dt. 11-12-1971 calling upon them to tender apology and pay damages of Rs. 10,000/- for defamation.
3. The defendants 2 and 3 vide their written statement Exh. 15 and Exh. 16 submitted that they are not at all concerned with publications aforesaid and hence plaintiff's suit is false against them for which they claimed compensatory costs.
4. The defendant I vide his written statement Exh. 34 submitted that facts in those articles are true facts. He also submitted that the plaintiff belongs to a poor Koshit family, a backward community, having his pay as the only income which is hardly sufficient to meet maintenance expenses of his family. Still he has taken insurance policy of Rs. 1,00,000/- and he is required to pay yearly premium of Rs. 3,000/- to Rs. 4000/- and thus his assets are disproportionate to his income. While he was Naib Tahsildar at Wardha he faced departmental enquiry. From Wardha he was transferred to Gondia and while on duty here some bamboos were stolen from Government stock and were found in his possession. He was alleged to be corrupt and he faced departmental enquiry for these charges. At Wardha also he was Block Development Officer and charged with corruption. He was then posted as Commandant at Birsi Camp near Gondia which was a refugee camp. Young ladies of the camp complained about his sexual atrocities. One Sarlabai filed a complaint against him under Ss. 376 and 313 read with S. 109 I.P.C. He was facing 3 departmental enquiries. Shri R.V. Dalal was then Chief Executive Officer, Zilla Parishad, Bhandara and was his relative. He justified publication of these articles in paras6(a) to 6(p). He claimed protection of the qualified privilege and fair comments. He submitted that publications were not against the plaintiff personally but were in his capacity as B.D.O. and hence suit was incompetent without prior permission from Zilla Parishad, Bhandara.
5. On the aforesaid pleas the trial Court framed necessary issues. The parties went on trial. Plaintiff examined himself. Defendant I examined DW 1 Radheshyam himself, DW 2 Babulal, Chairman of Panchayat Samiti, Tirora, DW 3 Jairamkumar a contractor of Panchayat Samiti, DW 4 Bhaurao in charge Manager of Land Development Bank Tirora, DW 5 Purushottam Chairman B & C Department, Municipal Committee, Tirora.
6. The learned trial Court after considering the oral and documentary evidence on record held (1) that the news items in suit were not true and correct, (2) that the defendant I failed to establish that the said publications were in public interest, without malice and were in good faith (3) that these publications were not made in collaboration with defendants 2 and 3, (4) These publications were defamatory of plaintiff. He negative other legal issues. Thus vide judgment and decree dt. 22-9-1977, the learned judge granted a decree for Rs. 3,000/- and proportionate costs against the defendant 1 and dismissed the suit against the defendants 2 and 3. The judgment decree is challenged in this appeal by the defendant 1.
7. The learned counsel for the appellant Shri Udhoji vehemently urged that these publications were true facts sufficiently proved by evidence in this case and hence publications were not at all defamatory of the plaintiff and the plaintiff is disentitled to claim damages. He contended that the defendant 1 is protected claiming qualified privilege as the defendant 1 as an Editor owes a duty to public by publishing all facts of public interest. Acts of the plaintiff were detrimental to public interest. Hence he submitted that even if those publications appear to be adverse to the plaintiff, the defendant 1 is entitled to get protection in law as he has a right and also a duty to publish correct facts with fair comments. He further contended the publications alleged to be defamatory are true in substance and in fact. Thus he relies on the defence of justification or truth also and submitted that he has substantially proved the truth of these publications. Hence he urged that the decree granted by the trial Court is illegal and deserves to be set aside.
8. It is to be borne in mind that the question of defamation is primarily linked up with one's reputation that one commands amongst one's fellow being and it is the infringement of this right to have one's reputation preserved in fact that gives the cause of action for defamation. Defamation is publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in estimation of right thinking members of the society generally or which makes them shun or avoid that person. The plaintiff has therefore to establish if he wants to succeed in getting damages (1) that the words or the acts must have been published maliciously, (2) that they are defamatory, (3) that they have references to the plaintiff, and (4) that they have been published. All those publications aforesaid are admitted by the defendant 1. On bare reading of these publications, it cannot be disputed by a prudent man that the said publications are defamatory. It is the primary rule about defamatory words that they are presumed to be false and the burden to prove that they are not so is upon the defendant. The plaintiff has established by his own evidence as PW 1 that these articles contain defamatory words and facts beyond doubt and they have been published. The question then arises whether the defendant 1 had any justification in publishing them. Defamatory words are presumed to be false as a man is presumed to be innocent and hence the defendant has to rebut that presumption by giving evidence in justification and he has to show that the allegations are true. The defendant 1 has taken in this case the defence of justification or truth of the words and facts in the articles published by him and if he proves, there is no doubt that it is a complete defence to the action of the plaintiff for damages and he will be fully protected. Thus the burden to prove this defence of truth of all these publications is entirely on the defendant 1 and he must prove that the entire publications are true.
9. The defendant 1 also takes shelter by taking defence of fair comment. For comment to be a defence.
(1) The comment must be an expression of opinion of the writer and must not be assertion of facts.
(2) The comment must be fair.
(3) The comment must be on a maker which is of public interest.
(4) The comment must not be malicious. Thus the defendant can plead and prove that the publication was an honest expression of opinion made in good faith and for the good of the public as laid down in : AIR1944Mad484 Balsubramania v. Raja Gopala Charier. Comment is a statement of opinion on facts i.e. it is something apart from fact. The law protects only fair comment, although couched in a defamatory language when it is on a matter of public interest. In substance the defence of fair comment only protects statement of opinion. It does not extend to defamatory allegations of fact.
10. The defendant 1 has also taken the defence of qualified privilege. The defendant 1 being the editor of a newspaper and a journalist owes a duty to the public to publish all facts of public interest. The classic definition of 'qualified privilege' is what is stated by Parke B. in Toogood v. Spy ring (1834) 1 CMR 181.:
'In general, an action lies for the malicious publication of statements, which are false in fact, and injurious to the character of another (within the well-known limits as to verbal slander), and the law considers such publications as malicious, unless it is fairly made by a person in the discharge of some public or private duty whether legal or moral, or in the conduct of his own affairs, in matters where his interest is concerned. In such cases, the occasion prevents the inference of malice, which the law draws from unauthorised communications, and affords a qualified defence depending upon the absence of actual malice. If fairly warranted by any reasonable occasion or exigency and honestly made, such communications are protected for the common convenience and welfare of society ; and the law has not restricted the right to make them within any narrow limits'.
11. The above dictum highlights the following aspects, Publication of statements which are false and injurious to the character of another gives rise to an inference of malice in law and make the publisher liable in damages to the person affected. Malice in common acceptance means ill will against a person but in its legal sense means a wrongful act done intentionally without just cause or excuse. Absence of proper motive is termed malice in fact while term malice in law in taken to mean that defamation was wrongful and intentional. Inference of malice in law is successfully rebutted if the publisher is able to show that statement was made in the discharge of a public or private duty. It is immaterial the whether that duty is a legal duty or a moral duty. An occasion is privileged only if it can be fairly stated that the person to whom it has been made has a corresponding duty or interest in receiving it. Only where these two things co-exist, does the law regard the occasion as privileged.
12. In the light of the aforesaid principles let us scan the evidence and see if the defendant has satisfactory proved his said defence i.e., (1) Defence of justification or truth (2) Defence of fair comment and (3) Defence of qualified privilege. The defendant No. 1 published series and articles which are not disputed. The article dt. 12-5-1971 states that 98 false certificate were issued by the plaintiff and he thereby cheated the Land Development Bank. It further states that each of the certificates was sold at the rate of Rs. 200/-. The caption of article is 'Kumbharachi Soon Ukirdyawar Yenar'. The next article is under caption 'Ghoteleshwar' i.e. plaintiff as mischief monger. Article dt. 26-5-1971 states that the defendant 1 would bring out the incident of corruption. The next article states that a cheque of Rs. 10,000/- was issued on Mar. 31, 1971 for purchase of cement but cement was actually purchased later on by that amount. The article de. 23-6-1971 states that the plaintiff had called all employees of Panchayat Samiti Tirora and they must obey him as his word is final in Zilla Parishad or else any body disobeying will suffer the risk of transfer or suspension. Further allegation is that he asked one of his overseers for Rs. 2000/- for getting his transfer order cancelled. The further allegation is that the plaintiff purchased tiles at Rs. 54/- per hundred when similar tiles were available at Rs. 23.70/- paise. The next allegation is that the plaintiff purchased from unauthorised company useless papers worth Rs. 26,000/- and removed his own poverty and on inspection by Deputy Engineer he requested him that despite fact that the plaintiff had taken illegal gratification in so many cases, he was not transferred. The publication dt. 28-7-1971 refers to the trap for corruption against Shri Gondane Extension Officer to whom plaintiff assured to save. The last publication is dt. 4-8-1971 and states that various mischievous and illegal acts of the plaintiff would be revealed as the Panchayat Samiti passed a resolution for his transfer and if he is transferred, the public at large would be free from the atrocities of the plaintiff.
13. The aforesaid publication gives out that the plaintiff is a corrupt man; in several matters he adopted illegal means. In : AIR1970Bom424 , R.K. Karanjia v. Krishnaraj M.D. Thackersey, it is held that mere fact that the subject-matter is of public interest does not afford any protection to the publisher and that something more was needed. Though it is true that a journalist owes a duty to the public at large to publish facts with are necessary in the interest of the public, he is not protected by law when defamatory statements are published. Journalist has a right to comment fairly and if necessary severely on matters of public interest provided allegations of facts are wholly accurate and truthful. If he himself makes investigation he must make sure that all his facts are accurate and true. The defendant 1 and also the witnesses examined by him failed to prove the charges of corruption against the plaintiff. The defendant 3 in his deposition at Exh-69 stated in respect of purchase of tiles, pipes and non-construction of wells by persons who obtained utilisation certificates from plaintiff and also about his irregular attendance in office. This witness was not at all cross-examined by the plaintiff. DW 22 Babulal does not speak about plaintiff accepting illegal gratification for issuing utilisation certificate to any person. DW 4 Bhaurao speaks about non-construction of wells in 34 cases out of 57 cases of loans in respect of which utilisation certificate was issued by the plaintiff. However, there is no evidence to prove that these certificates were issued only after receipt of illegal gratification by the plaintiff. Except defendant 1, no other witnesses are cross-examined. But then it is obvious from the evidence aforesaid that the defendant 1 had not collected sufficient facts to support the charges made against the plaintiff in their entirety and he totally failed to discharge his burden. The defendant 1 had in fact no duty towards public to publish charges of corruption against the plaintiff when he had no material available with him, nor had to collected facts before publication to prove the same. The defendant 1 utterly failed to prove that the plaintiff attempted to misappropriate the amount of cheque for Rs. 10,000/- issued in March 1971. The defendant 1 failed to prove that the plaintiff by making purchases of tiles and though improper either benefited himself or his relatives as there is absolutely no evidence. DW 3 Jairamkumar's evidence is unreliable when he could have submitted his tender directly in office of Panchayat Samiti but sends the same by telegram. There is no other evidence to prove that the plaintiff purchased tiles at higher price rejecting tender at low price. There is no evidence or record to prove that the plaintiff deliberately chose to purchase useless and broken pipes or that the pipes when purchased where useless or broken. The evidence of Babulal DW 2 about the plaintiff telling him that transport job is given to his relative is unreliable being after-though in the absence of averments in his written statement. As regards the transfer of Shri Gilda, the plaintiff stated in his evidence that he applied to higher authorities for cancellation of his transfer and had nor relieved him. Disagreeing with the trial Court I hold that there is nothing wrong in that and publication rushed (sic) by the defendant 1 is also false and defamatory. There is no convincing evidence to prove that the plaintiff attempted to give improper protection to Shri Gondane in a corruption trap arranged by Anti-Corruption Department. Plaintiff is not proved to be guilty of a single charge despite D.E's complaints and prosecution as not a single order holding him responsible is filed on record.
14. In view of the evidence aforesaid, the defendant 1 failed to satisfy by cogent and convincing evidence that he can be protected under any of the defence of (1) justification or truth (2) Fair comment and (3) qualified privilege. The said publications were mala fide and the defendant 1 consciously attempted to malign the plaintiff knowing full well that he had no proof of allegations, serious allegations, he is making and publishing. The defendant 1 is in fact disentitled to claim qualified privilege. The defendant 1 also failed to prove that his publications are fair comments on matter of public interest. Even otherwise the defence of fair comment only protects statement of opinion. It does not extend to defamatory allegations of facts. It is one thing to comment upon or criticizes even with severity the acknowledged or proved facts about a public servant and another to assert that he had been guilty of particular acts of misconduct or misappropriation or corruptions as held in AIR 1952 Pepsu 165, T.G. Goswami v. State. The defendant 1 also failed to prove that all facts in the publication s are true. The defendant who pleads justification must prove that whole statement is true. The plea of justification or truth i.e. the words complained of were true in substance and in fact, means that all these words were true, and covers not only the bare statements of fact contained in the alleged libel but also any imputation which the words in the context may be taken to convey. Such a plea means that the libel is true not only in its allegations of fact but also in any comments made there in. I, therefore hold and concur in the finding of the learned trial Court that all the publications are positively defamatory of the plaintiff.
15. No other points are urged by the learned counsel for appellant before me except those discussed above. However, I will mow advert to the quantum of damages awarded by the trial Court to the plaintiff. The damages for defamations are purely compensatory. The amount of damages is entirely within the discretion of the Court and no rules as to their amount has been or can be laid down and each case depends upon its own particular facts. The plaintiff in this case had been maligned by false publications. The plaintiff was suspended; faced departmental enquiries and had to meet serious charges resulting in mental strain and pain. Taking into consideration, the character of defamatory words and the resultant injury to the plaintiff's mind. I hold that damages awarded to the plaintiff are most reasonable and just.
16. In the result, this appeal fails and is dismissed with costs. No costs are awarded to the respondents as none of the respondents are represented in this appeal.
17. Appeal dismissed