Updated: November 23, 2021 7:55:42 am
The Bombay High Court on Monday refused to grant a blanket injunction restraining NCP leader and Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Nawab Malik but directed him to conduct “reasonable verification” of facts before posting any material on social media or speaking with the media against NCB Mumbai zonal director Sameer Wankhede and his family.
A single bench of Justice Madhav J Jamdar pronounced the interim order on a suit filed by Wankhede’s father Dhyandev, claiming that Malik had made defamatory posts against him and his family and should be restrained from further posts.
The High Court said that it cannot be said that Malik had posted against Wankhede after reasonable verification of facts. It also said that it was obvious that his tweets “are actuated by malice or personal animosity” since the minister’s son-in-law was arrested by the NCB. But, it added, Malik had raised “very important issues” concerning the acts and conduct of Wankhede. It also said that at this stage the allegations made against Wankhede that he is Muslim by birth but had secured a government job by falsely claiming to be from a Scheduled Caste and that he had sought illegal gratification in cases filed by the NCB cannot be said to be “totally false”. It referred to documents submitted by both parties on Wankhede’s identity and an affidavit filed by a panch witness in the Cordelia cruise case who made allegations against him.
“The factual position on record shows that the Defendant (Malik) has raised very important issues concerning the acts and conduct of Plaintiff’s son – Sameer Wankhede who is public official….It cannot be said that the Defendant (Malik) has acted after reasonable verification of the facts, however, at this prima facie stage and on the basis of material on record, it cannot be said that allegations made by the Defendant are totally false,” the court said, calling these its ‘prima facie observations’ based only on the tweets and material submitted during the proceedings.
Malik has taken to Twitter from October 14 to make allegations against Wankhede. Dhyandev claimed that this was the minister ‘hounding’ Wankhede for personal vendetta for probing Sameer Khan, Malik’s son-in-law. Khan was arrested by the NCB in January and released on bail nine months later in September. Dhyandev also claimed that Malik began tweeting against Wankhede after he came to know that the NCB was planning to appeal against Khan’s bail order. Malik claimed that he had documentary evidence to support the claims made by him and its admissibility and authenticity can be decided only at the stage of the trial.
Dhyandev had contended that his family had a right to privacy and the tweets were causing a loss of reputation for them. The court said that “reputation of one cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other’s right of free speech”. But, it held that in case of public officials right to privacy is not available with respect to acts and conduct relevant to discharge of official duties and the public has the right to examine and comment on actions of public officials.
“It is also important to note that although the Plaintiff and his family members are having right to privacy which is part of Article 21, the Defendant is having right to freedom of speech and expression subject to the restrictions imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. Thus in this case it is necessary to balance fundamental rights of the Plaintiff and that of the Defendant,” the court said.
The court said that one of the documents submitted by Malik had an “interpolation” which showed that he had not conducted reasonable verification. It also considered 28 documents submitted by Wankhede. But, after the court had heard the arguments and reserved it for orders, an additional affidavit was submitted by Malik, which was a letter dated November 15 from a health officer stating that in Wankhede’s birth certificate in 1979 his father’s name was mentioned as Dawood K Wankhede and it was corrected in 1993 to Dnyandeo Kachru Wankhede. The court said that it was not going into the authenticity of the document but it was clear that Malik did not carry out a verification earlier.
Malik’s lawyers had claimed that Dhyandev’s suit was not maintainable as the posts pertained to his son and not him. The court, however, said that even if allegations are made against Wankhede, in the facts and circumstances of the case, his father too is defamed in the process. The court held the suit maintainable and posted it for hearing next month.
Dhyandev has sought a permanent injunction against Malik and deletion of all posts made by him so far. He has also sought Rs 1.25 crore in damages for alleged loss of reputation.
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