1. This is an appeal from a conviction of the Editor of the Madras Mail on a charge of defamation. The complainant is the President of the Madras Municipality. The charge alleges that the defendant published certain untrue and defamatory statements concerning the acting Health Officer of the Municipality and the subordinate officers of the Municipal Health Department, for whose efficient working the complainant is directly responsible, intending, thereby, or knowing, or having reason to believe, the publication of such untrue and defamatory imputations would, injure the reputation of the complainant.
2. The charge then proceeds to set out the alleged untrue and; defamatory imputations. They are as follower--' That on Friday night (meaning the night of Friday, August 23, 1901) there were three attacks in two native houses in Chintadripet in Singanna Chetty Street. In one of the houses both the cases proved fatal. * * * There was one more attack in that very house and a Eurasian resident reported the case to the Police who, in turn, brought the Sanitary Overseer to the houses, but, strange to say, absolutely nothing was done in the way of disinfection, cleaning the clothes, &c.; Naturally, the contagion spread to the neighbouring Eurasian houses and the medical attendant at once reported the cases to the Health Officer; but, would you believe it, that only at 10 o'clock at night did the same overseer come to disinfect the houses * * *. It was pointed out to the Health Officer that the people had locked up the clothes of the patients in an adjoining 'house, and the clothes were found locked up. But beyond ordering the peons or the' overseer to see them burned, nothing was done to' destroy them. The corpse way allowed to be kept till at 7 last night * * * it was removed. When death occurs in a respectable Eurasian house the Municipal Health department insist on the body being removed at once, but the body of the woman was allowed to remain for one full day. This is not all. There was one death in the barracks and there are one or two cases of 'diarrhea' there. But the Municipality has done nothing to disinfect the house, and there are not fewer than a dozen families in the barracks. There are not fewer than three cases to-day, but, of course, we see not a single peon anywhere. These are facts which speak for themselves. I have now to appeal from Dr. Mathews to Colonel Moore to adopt more rigorous measures to put an end to the scourge * * * now carrying off men like sheep.'
3. Further on the 5th day of September 1901, at Madras aforesaid, in another number of the same paper, the Madras Mail, the said defamatory and untrue imputations and matter or portions1; thereof were repeated and confirmed in the following words, that is to say, ' with reference to the above I have to state that the best evidence of the facts furnished by me is the above letter itself so far as the disinfection of the native house in Singanna Chetty Street is concerned' Let me again restate my facts of the case. ** * On Friday, the 23rd ultimo, .there were three attacks in two native houses Singanna Chetty Street, in Chintadripet. It is also absolutely true that the Sanitary Overseer of the division visited the house on Saturday morning, but nothing was done as to disinfection till 10 P.M. on Saturday night. As to the removal of the corpse there is nothing in what said to imply, that I accused the Health Department of not carrying out the Taw in the matter. What I meant and what my words clearly indicate was that the Eurasians, the better classy were amenable to moral persuasions in this respect and removed their corpses without much delay. With regard to the disinfection of the clothes of the deceased, I regret to have to add * * *. I have evidence to show they were not disinfected in the presence of the acting Health Officer, but only on his instructions *** after he left the spot.'
4. The question we have to determine before it becomes necessary to go into the evidence is this; Assuming the statements of which the complainant complains are untrue, and assuming for the purposes of the question now before us those statements are defamatory of the acting Health Officer, and of the subordinate officers of the Municipal Health Department, are the statements, in law, defamatory of the complainant?
5. None of the statements contains any express allegation that the complainant has been negligent in the discharge of his public duties. In our judgment the statements set out in the charge are not of such a nature as to suggest that the complainant has been guilty of negligence in the discharge of his public duties. The statements complained of are, in the main, allegations of specific acts of negligence by the acting Health Officer and the subordinate officers of the Health Department. It seems to us that none of the statements is capable of being construed as containing any imputation, as against the complainant.
6. Besides the specific allegations, there are two statements which may be described as general, one is 'when death occurs in a respectable Eurasian house, the Municipal Health Department insist on the body being removed at once, but the body of the woman (the woman being a native) was allowed to remain for one full day.'
7. It was contended on behalf of the prosecution that these words are defamatory, inasmuch as they suggest that the Health Department are in the habit of bringing more pressure to bear in connection with the removal of corpses, when the corpse is that of an Eurasian than when it is that of a native. It seems difficult to extract any defamatory meaning from this statement; but assuming as, for the purposes of the question of the law, we do assume, that these words are defamatory of the Health Officer, it seems clear to us that they are incapable of bearing an interpretation which makes them defamatory of the complainant. The other general statement is, 'There are not fewer than three cases to-day, but of course we see not a single peon anywhere.' It is very difficult to see that these words involve any imputation on the complainant, but if there is any imputation, it is of so remote and light a character that we have no hesitation in holding that the imputation was not made with the intention of injuring the reputation of the complainant or with the knowledge that it would do so.
8. This is clear from the concluding words of the letter complained of: - 'I have now to appeal from Dr. Mathews to Colonel Moore to adopt more rigorous measures.' This clearly indicates that the writer believed that the fault lay with the Health Officer and his subordinates, and that it was only necessary to bring the matter to the notice of the complainant in order to have more rigorous measures adopted. These words suggest confidence in the complainant rather than any negligence or inefficiency on his part. In our judgment the complainant is not a 'person aggrieved' by the defamation of his subordinate officers (if they were defamed) within the meaning of those words as used in Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
9. The statements set forth in the charge and which are relied upon by the complainant as constituting the alleged defamation are, in our judgment, clearly not defamatory of the complainant.
10. The conviction is bad and must be set aside. The fine, if levied, must be refunded.