Sameer Wankhede Vs Nawab Malik Defamation Lawsuit – “The public has the right to review and comment on the actions of public officials, after reasonable fact checking”: Bombay HC

Cabinet Minister of Maharashtra Nawab Malik raised some very important questions regarding the actions and conduct of BCN Officer Sameer Wankhede who is a public official, the Bombay High Court stated in its detailed order denying interim relief in the libel action brought by Dhyandev Wankhede.

On Monday, the court refused to temporarily prevent Malik from making public statements or social media posts against NCB area director Sameer Wankhede and his family.

Judge Jamdar held that for a public official to be able to justify damages, he must demonstrate a prima facie case that the defendant failed to reasonably verify the facts.

“The public has the right to examine and comment on the actions of public officials. However, as the Supreme Court ruled, this must be done after a reasonable check of the facts….In the case of public officials, the right to privacy or, for that matter, a remedy for damages is not available in respect of their acts and conduct in connection with the performance of their official duties. It must be established that such publication is completely false and that it was made without reasonable verification of the facts ”, the court ruled.

The court noted Malik’s attorney’s arguments that the evidence produced by the minister helped the government apparatus take corrective action and a vigilance investigation is now underway against him. Malik alleged that despite being born a Muslim, Wankhede entered the Indian civil service in the listed caste category.

While the court declined to detain Malik for posting against the Wankhedes, Judge Jamdar warned that Malik appears to have tweeted only after his son-in-law’s arrest and release on bail in an NDPS case.

“It cannot be said that the Respondent (Malik) acted after a reasonable verification of the facts, however, at this prima facie stage and on the basis of the evidence on the record, it cannot be said that the allegations made by the Respondent are totally wrong. “

“The factual position on the record shows that the defendant has raised very important questions regarding the actions and conduct of the plaintiff’s son – Sameer Wankhede who is a public official.”

The court refused a general injunction to Dhyandeo. However, the court ordered Malik to post writings, speak with the media, including electronic media and social media, or post in any way any content / material that is defamatory towards the applicant and / or their family members only after performing a reasonable fact check. “

Maintainable Defamation Costume

Significantly, referring to Nawab Malik’s messages against Dhyandev Wankhede, Judge Jamdar observed that at first glance, the prosecution appears to be able to stand.

“In this case, it is the allegation that the name of the applicant is Dawood and not Dnyandev and, therefore, allegations are made against the applicant himself. Apart from that, even though there are allegations are made against the plaintiff’s son, in the facts and circumstances of this case the plaintiff is also vilified in the process. Therefore, at this ad-interim stage, although I do not address said assertions in detail, however, on the face of it, the lawsuit as filed appears to be sustainable on the facts and the circumstances of this case. “

Sameer Wankhede a public officer

The court observed that although the Wankhedes had the right to protect their privacy, allegations were made against the son who is a public officer and the public has the right to review and comment on the actions of public officials after verification. .

“The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to citizens of this country by article 21. A citizen has the right to protect his privacy, however, the defendant has made allegations against Applicant’s Son – Sameer Wankhede, who is currently posted as Area Manager of the Narcotics Control Bureau, Government of India and, therefore, is a public officer. The public has the right to examine and to comment on the actions of public officials. However, as the Supreme Court ruled, this must be done after a reasonable period of fact-checking. “

Right to privacy vs freedom of expression

Judge Jamdar rejected the legal position on the right to privacy versus freedom of speech and expression on the basis of the judgment in Judge KS Puttaswamy (retired) vs UOI, Subramanian Swamy Vs. Union of India, R Rajgopal vs. Tamil Nadu.

The court thus ruled:

  1. “As reputation is an inherent element of Article 21, it should not be allowed to be tarnished just because another individual can have their freedom. Therefore, the balance between the two rights must be found.
  2. One’s “reputation” cannot be allowed to be crucified on the altar of the other’s right to free speech.
  3. The right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to citizens of this country by article 21. It is a “right to be left alone”. A citizen has the right to protect his privacy, that of his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, procreation and education, among others.
  4. No one can publish anything regarding these matters, whether true or otherwise, without the consent of the citizen.
  5. However, the publication regarding the aforementioned aspects becomes beyond reproach if such publication is based on public records, including court records. This is the case when once a case becomes public knowledge, the right to privacy no longer exists and becomes a legitimate subject for comment by the press, the media and others.
  6. In the case of public officials, the right to privacy or, for that matter, a remedy for damages is not available in respect of their acts and conduct in connection with the performance of their official duties. It must be established that such publication is completely false and that it was made without reasonable verification of the facts.

Case title – Dhyandev Kachruji Wankhede v. Nawab malik

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