R.A. Mehta, J.
1. The petitioner, original accused and respondent herein, are Directors of a Co-op. Dairy named Baroda District Co-operative Milk Producers' Sangh Limited and as per the complaint they are political rivals. The criminal complaint of defamation is based on a circular letter dt. 15th May 1982 issued by the petitioner-accused as the President of the Co-operative Dairy to the Presidents of the member Co-operative Societies. The respondent-complainant felt offended and defamed by the said letter and, hence, he has filed Criminal Case No. 769 of 1982 in the Court of the learned J. M. F. C, Padra and the learned Magistrate has taken cognizance and issued process against the petitioner-accused. The petitioner has come to this Court for quashing the process.
2. The main ground for quashing the process is that the letter speaks for itself and is issued in response to press statements issued by the complainant and has been issued in the ordinary course of business bona fide and without any criminal intention to harm the reputation of the complainant and no criminal offence under Section 500, I.P.C. is made out.
3. That letter states that (the complainant) Kantilal Tribhovandas Amin, a Director of the Sangh itself, has been issuing press statements from time to time which are injurious to the interest of the producers and the attention is invited to one of such press statements regarding purchase price of the milk. It is stated that with effect from 10-5-1982 a rise of Rs. 2/- per Kg. fat in the purchase price has been approved by the Managing Committee over the opposition of the complainant Director and circular to that effect should have reached the addresses on 12th May 1983. Inspite of such circular the representation of the complainant Kantibhai that the management is not intending to give the increase to the producers is hollow and misleading and such anti-Sangh activity of Kantibhai is to be declared by every producer. The letter proceeds to point out the care taken by the Managing Committee to look after the interest of the producers and then it is stated that while the Managing Committee is thus anxious and active about getting more price for the producers, the claim of Kantibhai to be the only protector of the interest of the producers is injurious to the Sangh. It is further stated in the letter that there is dual policy of Kantibhai and thereby there is harm to the Sangh. It is also stated that if there is disunity within the Managing Committee and if a member makes public statements to harm the reputation of the Sangh, there is a case for the members to consider impartially.
4. The reading of this letter circular shows that there is no intention to harm the reputation of the complainant but the intention is to clarify the position and put forward the view of the Sangh. When there are two views on a public question it is in the public interest that the views are expressed freely so that the public at large has both the views before it to judge for themselves as to who is right and to what extent. The complainant has been expressing his views by press statements against which the management is required to make its position clear and by way of rejoinder a statement is bona fide made and is in course of such expression in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of the complainant touching the public question is made, it is no defamation as provided in the third exception to Section 499, I.P.C. Section 499 itself requires that there must be imputation made with intention to cause harm to the reputation of the complainant. In the present case it is impossible to hold from the reading of the offending letter that there was any such criminal intention to harm the reputation of the complainant. The complainant and the accused both are holding public elective offices of a very large federal co-operative society in which there are hundreds of co-operative milk societies consisting of thousands of individual members and they are dealing in an essential food article, namely, milk and milk products, which is consumed by public at large. In the affairs of such a public body on public question of milk price when there is any difference of opinion amongst the persons holding public offices, such difference is required to be given full freedom of expression in the public interest so that the members of public and of the society can have full picture thereof from all different sections of opinion and in exercise of that freedom of expression when in good faith any opinion is expressed regarding conduct of any other person touching such public question, it cannot be said that any offence of defamation takes place.
5. In this connection it is worthwhile to refer to an observation of the Supreme Court (Kartar Singh and Ors. v. State of Punjab : 1956CriLJ945
So far as these individuals were concerned, they did not take any notice of these vulgar abuses and appeared to have considered the whole thing as beneath their notice. Their conduct in this behalf was consistent with the best traditions of democracy. 'Those who fill a public position must not be too thin skinned in reference to comments made upon them. It would often happen that observations would be made upon public men which they know from the bottom of their hearts were undeserved and unjust; yet they must bear with them and submit to be misunderstood for a time' (Per Cockbum, C. J. in 'Seymour v. Butterworth (1862) 3 F. & F. 372 (376-377)) and see the dicta of the Judges in 'R. v. Sir R. Garden' (1879) 5 QBD 7-'whoever fills in public position renders himself open thereto. He must accept an attack as a necessary, though unpleasant, appendage to his office' (Per Bramwell, B., in Kelley v. Sherlock (1866) 1 Q. B. 686 (689)). Public men in such positions may as well think it worth their while to ignore such vulgar criticisms and abuses buried against them rather than give an importance to the same by prosecuting the persons responsible for the same.
6. It is necessary in public interest that public criticism of public men is made reasonably freely; without such criticism or even hostile and bitter criticism and public dialogue the public affairs can never be conducted with a view to welfare and best interest of the society. And when the matter is of public interest, the Court ought not to weigh any comment on it in a fine scale.
7. Applying these principles, it cannot be reasonably said that the offence of defamation is made out from the circular letter.
In the result, it cannot be said that there is any criminal intention to defame prima facie disclosed in the present case and, hence the process is required to be quashed and is hereby quashed. Rule made absolute accordingly.