K.N. Mudaliyar, J.
1. This is an appeal directed by Karuppusami, the complainant-appellant against the order of the court of the Sub-divisional Magistrate (J.), Dindigul. acquitting 43 accused-respondents.
2. The accusation against the accused is that they are all opposed to the complainant on his being appointed as the village munsif of Kalvelipatti and. in making such objections, they put in writing that the complainant was a rowdy and law-breaker and that he would give trouble to the public and such allegations against the complainant constituted defamation punishable under Section 500. I.P.C.
3. The complainant-appellant is P.W. 1. Undoubtedly he is a man of status in his village, owning properties worth Rs. two lakhs. All the accused also belong to the same village.
4. The first accused was the village munsif of that village and he was suspended. Therefore the office of village munsif fell vacant. P.W. 1 applied for appointment as village munsif on 1-6-1970 to the Tahsildar, Nilakkottai.
5. P.W. 2. Revenue Inspector, was directed to go over to Kalvelipatti to hold enquiry on the petition of P.W. 1, He held enquiry in the village chavadi at about 10 a.m. About 30 persons were assembled at the chavadi. P.W. 2. the revenue Inspector, questioned P.W. 1 after showing the mahazar Ex. P-4 to P.W. 1. Ex. P-4 contains the defamatory allegations made by the 48 villagers. Some of the accused were present in the chavadi. P.W. 2. the Revenue Inspector, read the contents of Ex. P-4. Ex. P-4 contained the following allegations:
(Being in vernacular are omitted in this report,-Ed.) P.W. 1 stated that he heard the contents of Ex. P-4 and he claims that his feelings were wounded and that his reputation was damaged in the estimation of the public including his witnesses. On further ascertaining the names of the signatories to Ex. P-4 he gave lawyer's notice. According to the evidence of P.W. 1, Ex. P-4 contained signatures of accused 2 to 48. The first accused also signed Ex. P-4. There has been some litigation, past and present, between P.W. 1 and the first accused. P.W. 1 also filed a suit against the 8th accused. A few of the signatories appear to have made apology to P.W. 1. In regard to the enquiry conducted by P-W. 2. as spoken to by P.W. 1. P.W. 2 corroborates P.W. 1.
6. The question that falls for determination is whether all these accused-respondents defamed the complainant, intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of the complainant.
7. The 9th accused is the father-in-law of P.W. 1. The daughter of the 9th accused is the wife of P.W. 1, The 9th accused and other accused in the village honestly felt that P.W. 1 was not a suitable person to hold the post of village munsif. They gave the petition, Ex. P-4. that P.W. 1 should not be appointed as village munsif. They have really given the petition bearing the public interest in mind, for public good. Even on an earlier occasion, the villagers opposed the grant of gun licence to P.W. 1 before the Revenue Divisional Officer. It emerges from the entire recorded evidence that at least on some occasions P.W. 1 was lending money on high rates of interest not sanctioned by law. He has many enemies in the village and he filed civil suits against at least some of the accused.
8. The learned trial Magistrate found that the allegations made in Ex. P-4 fall within the exceptions 1, 8 and 9 to Section 499 I.P.C. In the interests of public good, the accused-respondents represented that P.W. 1 should not be appointed as a village munsif. His own brother-in-law is the 23rd accused the son of the 9th accused. P.W. 1 stated that his father-in-law and brother-in-law were mainly responsible for instigating the other accused-respondents to make defamatory allegations in Ex. P-4 against the complainant. The 22nd accused is the husband of the elder sister of the complainant. P.W. 1's closest relations expressed very strongly their objections against the appointment of the complainant as the village Munsif of the village. In my view, the complainant's relations like accused 9. 22 and 23 know the. real character of the complainant and his antecedents. Little wonder there is they made such averments in Ex. P-4 as would affect his chances of appointment as village munsif.
9. In regard to the scope of Exception 9 to Section 499, the Supreme Court held in Harbhajan Singh v. State of Punjab : 1966CriLJ82 -
The nature and scope of the onus of proof which the accused has to discharge in seeking the protection of exception 9 to Section 499 is as under:
(i) If it is shown that the accused has led evidence to show that he acted in good faith, and by the test of probabilities that evidence establishes his case, he will be entitled to claim the benefit of Exception 9.
(ii) The proof of truth of the impugned statement is not an ingredient of the ninth exception as it is of the first; under the ninth exception it is not necessary, and indeed it is immaterial, to consider whether the accused has strictly proved the truth of the allegations made by him.
(iii) It is true that the mere plea that the accused believed that what he stated was true by itself, will not sustain his case of good faith under the ninth exception. Simple belief or actual belief by itself is not enough. It must be shown that the belief in the impugned statement had a rational basis and was not just a blind simple belief. That is where the element of the due care and attention plays an important role. If before making the statement the accused did not show due care and attention (see Section 52) that would defeat his plea of good faith. But it must be remembered that good faith does not require logical infallibility.
(iv) It is not possible to lay down any rigid rule or test for deciding whether an accused person acted in good faith under the ninth exception. The question has to be considered on the facts and circumstances of each case, what is the nature of the imputations made, under what circumstances did it come to be made, what is the status of the person who makes the imputation; was there any malice in his mind when he made the said imputation; was any enquiry made by him before he made it, are there reasons to accept his story that he acted with due care and attention and was satisfied that the imputation was true? These and other considerations would be relevant in deciding the plea of good faith under the ninth exception.
(v) Absence of personal malice may be a relevant fact in dealing with the accused's plea of good faith, but its significance or importance cannot be exaggerated. The accused will have to show that he acted with due care and attention even in the absence of personal malice.
10. Mr. Santhanam has cited the following authorities but in view of the law. as laid down in the Supreme Court decision cited above, it is unnecessary to deal with the other authorities on the basis of the Droved facts of this case.
Chelliah v. Rajeswari 1968 MLW (Cri) 154; Shivage Gowda v. Narayana 1967 MLJ (Cri) 594; Haji Ahmed v. : AIR1960All623 ; Chandrasekhara Pillai v. Karthikeyan 1965 MLJ (Cri) 834.
Bearing in mind the above principles of law. and applying the same to the facts of this case and accepting the testimony of D.W. 1 who is undoubtedly a respectable witness, I have no hesitation in finding that the averments have been made by the accused-respondents in good faith. All the accused-respondents have acted in good faith for protecting the interests of the public in their objecting to the appointment of the complainant as the village munsif. The accused-respondents are not saddled with the burden of proving the truth of the impugned statement in Ex. P-4. It is not pertinent even to consider whether the accused-respondents have strictly proved the truth of the allegations made by them in Ex. P-4. In my view, the accused-respondents have shown that their belief in the impugned statement had a rational basis and was not just a blind, simple belief and they have subscribed to the impugned statements with due care and attention when the father-in-law and the two brothers-in-law (accused 9. 22 and 23) have made the said statements against the complainant. The accused-respondents are rustic villagers and the law does not demand logical and stern infallibility from such villagers.
11. I uphold that the plea of good faith of the accused-respondents would avail them in view of the 9th exception to Section 499, I. P. C.
12. I confirm the order of the lower court acquitting the accused-respondents of the offence under Section 500, I.P.C.
13. The criminal appeal fails and is dismissed.