J.K. Misra, J.
1. This second appeal is against the reversing judgment of the appellate court setting aside the decree passed in the plaintiff's favour for damages at an amount of Rs. 25/-. There was a criminal case (case No. 80/1955-56) filed by one Brundaban Panda against the plaintiff before the local Adalati Panchayat. The Adalati Panchayat asked the defendant to make an enquiry and report on the said case. The defendant filed his report Ext. 4 in which he stated as to what he had found out during the enquiry, and he further stated in that report that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class. The plaintiffs case was that the defendant did not at all make any such enquiry as reported by him in Ext. 4: that the complainant in Criminal Case No. 80 had lodged the case falsely against him at the defendant's instance; and that the defendant's observation in Ext. 4 that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class amounted to defamation of the plaintiff.
The plaintiff claimed Rs. 150/- towards damages. The defendant's plea in the written statement was that he had stated in the report what he ascertained as truth during the enquiry into the criminal complaint, and that there was no grudge or malice behind his observation, in the said report. He further pleaded immunity under Sections 110 and 111 of the Grama Panchayat Act. He also pleaded that the plaintiff had no status,
2. Both the courts below have rightly held that Sections 110 and 111 of the Grama Panchayat Act could give no protection to the defendant, in as much as the defendant himself was not a member of the Adalati Panchayat or Gram Panchayat, and the Adalati Panchayat had no right under law to get a complaint enquired into by a third person. Though, the plaintiff's case was that there was no enquiry made against him at all as stated in Ext. 4, the trial court assumed, without deciding, that there had been an enquiry made by the defendant into the complaint against the plaintiff at the instance of the Adalati Panchayat, but observed that the defendant's statement in the report 'that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class was not borne out by the facts appearing in the report'.
In the first court of appeal, the appellant did not challenge the facts mentioned in Ext. 4, but only wanted to press that the defendant's observation, that he was a man of goonda class, in the said report, was an uncalled for one. Though the plaintiff had denied in his evidence to have attended the enquiry made by the defendant, the evidence of the defendant and the two witnesses examined on his side (D. Ws. 2 and 3) who have been relied on by the appellate Court, establishes the factum of enquiry. Had there been no enquiry and no facts elicited through the enquiry, the position would have been different; but in the present case it is now to be taken as an accepted fact that there was an enquiry by the defendant, and the facts stated in the enquiry report were true, and the limited question for consideration was whether the comment of the defendant in the body of the report that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class was justified.
Though it was not the plea of the defendant in his written statement that his observation, that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class, was based On truth, attempt was made at the evidence stage by the defendant to establish through the evidence of D. Ws. 2 and 3 that the plaintiff was in fact a goonda, and this was rejected by the trial court. The appellate Court, without discussing the evidence in detail of P. Ws. 2 and 3 Which was rejected by the trial court, has come to a sweeping generalisation that the previous conduct of the plaintiff, independent of what happened during the enquiry, would justify his being called a goonda, though the defendant's own evidence is that independent of what transpired during the enquiry, he had no knowledge about the general conduct of the plaintiff.
The evidence of D. Ws. 2 and 3 is vague regarding their assertion that the plaintiff on some other occasions acted like a goonda and so the defence in 'truth' is not available to the defendant in the present case. As to what happened during the enquiry, from which the defendant could conclude the plaintiff to be a goonda, D. W. 1 (the defendant himself) sought to say that during the enquiry the plaintiff rebuked the complainant, whereas D. Ws. 2 and 3, who were present at the enquiry, sought to say that during the enquiry the plaintiff threatened to assault the complainant. None of these facts finds mention in the report, which would have naturally found such mention if they were true, and in that aspect also the evidence of D. W. 1 is not to the same effect as D. Ws. 2 and 3. The trial Court accordinglyrejected the defendant's case that the plaintiff behaved haughtily during the proceeding of the enquiry, particularly when there was no such specific plea taken in the written statement
The court of appeal committed an error of record in holding that the defendant's evidence about the haughty conduct of the plaintiff at the stage of the enquiry found corroboration in the report Ext. 4 itself, and the appellate Court did not consider how D. Ws. 2 and 3 made a different case than the defendant himself, in respect of the alleged haughty conduct. In the circumstances, the trial court's finding that there was no haughty conduct manifested by the plaintiff during the enquiry shall have to be accepted as correct
3. So, as the facts ultimately stand, there was an enquiry against the plaintiff made by the defendant into the complaint at the instance of the Adalati Panchayat, in which the defendant found out facts as mentioned in the report Ext. 4, and he made the further observation in the body of the said report that the plaintiff was a man of goonda class, though no actual misbehaviour had been indicated by the plaintiff during the stage of enquiry, and though apparently there was no other material before the defendant except what he ascertained during the enquiry to form his estimate of the plaintiff. '
The ultimate question is, could the defendant bona fide opine the plaintiff to be a man of goonda class on the basis of what he has stated in Ext. 4 to have been found during the enquiry? As mentioned in Ext. 4, the defendant found out at the enquiry that on the date of occurrence (complaint case) the plaintiff sent for complainant to his house through different persons and the complainant came to the plaintiffs house at about 8 p.m., that there complainant was assaulted by the plaintiff to bleeding, and it was at the intervention of the plaintiffs brother the complainant was saved from further assault; that the plaintiff stated during the enquiry that he had shown mercy to the complainant by whatever he had done, and that otherwise he would have entangled him with a false case of having stolen a lota and challaned him to the police station.
If such was the conduct of the plaintiff, and instead of showing any repentance for his conduct he was priding upon his prowess, any reasonable man would take the view that the plaintiff is a man of goonda class. So, even if the plaintiff did not manifest any highhanded activity during the enquiry, the defendant's estimate of him, that he was a man of goonda class, could be still a reasonable comment and could not be said to have been born out of any malice or any improper motive.
4. Had the Adalati Panchayat any power in law to get the enquiry conducted by the defendant, the report of the defendant would have been completely privileged. In the present case, the enquiry however was without jurisdiction. But then the defendant, who could have no legal sense about the jurisdiction in file enquiry, thought it as a duty imposed on him by the Adalati Panchayat to make an enquiry and so after conducting the enquiry he submitted his report to the Adalati Panchayat, in discharge of such duty. Even if, under no legal obligation, the defendant had felt moral obligation to make the enquiry and convey the result of his enquiry to the Adalati Panchayat, which was interested in the result of such enquiry. In his report conveyed to the Adalati Panchayat, apart from stating the facts emerging in the enquiry, ho conveyed his own opinion of the plaintiff sis emerging from such facts. There was nothing to establish that his opining the plaintiff as a goonda was born of any improper motive. In such a case, the defendant was entitled to protection against the charge of defamation under the principle of 'qualified privilege'.
5. The Court of appeal exonerated the defendant on another ground, which was that the plaintiff has not succeeded in establishing that he had actually suffered from any loss of reputation. In a case of libel, it was not necessary to prove the actual loss of reputation, and it was sufficient to establish than the defamatory statement made would damage one's reputation. The appellate Court further observed. 'The words per se do not imply such character which can be accepted as a slander.'
The word ''goonda' according to Bhashakosh, means a wicked man, a Badmash, a naughty man, an oppressive man. There can be no doubt that if a man is called a goonda, his reputation would be damaged. Though not very clearly, that appellate Court sought to observe that the plaintiff was a man of no status. Every man has his own status, however humble, and he has a right to guard his reputation whatever it is, and the question of status is only relevant in measuring the question of compensation, and not in deciding as to whether there has been actual defamation in a case of a libel.
6. In the circumstances, though for different reasons, I agree with the finding of the appellate court that the plaintiff is entitled to no compensation. The appeal is dismissed and the decree of the appellate Court is affirmed. Parties are to bear their respective costs of the present appeal.