The Calcutta High Court held that while the right to speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution is a fundamental right, it is not an inviolable right. The Court noted that, in cases of defamation, such a right can be circumscribed if one person tarnishes the reputation of another in the society.

The Court allowed an Appeal against the Order of the Trial Court whereby the application seeking an injunction was dismissed on grounds that the Appellant could claim compensation. The Court noted that Reputation is a valuable asset, and Courts can protect it from harm caused by unsubstantiated and false allegations.

The law as enunciated in the above reports leaves no ambiguity in our mind that the Court is not denuded of power to grant injunction in a defamation suit containing the monetary relief. It is not an absolute principle that the moment the harm and injury suffered by a person can be compensated in monetary form, it creates a brindle in the Court to pass an injunction. The reputation of a person is one of the primary factor which weighs in the society and any attempt either by a spoken word or publication or letters circulated through internet portal on the basis of an unsubstantiated and false allegation can be restrained. The right to freedom of speech and expression though fundamental right is not an invioable right but circumscribed by a reasonable restriction having a fundamental right of right to freedom of speech and expression into an individual does not confer such right in absolute form if it tarnishes the image and reputation of a person which he owes the society and therefore, a balancing is required in this regard”, the Bench comprising Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Prasenjit Biswas observed.

Advocate Jishnu Chowdhury appeared on behalf of the Appellant.

The allegations of defamation stemmed from a letter wherein the Respondents made disparaging statements about the Appellant affecting his public image. He sought an injunction to restrain the defendants from circulating the letter. The Trial court refused to grant the injunction, holding that the Appellant could be adequately compensated in terms of money. The Appellant, therefore, approached the High Court challenging the order of the Trial Court.

The Court observed that even after the Trial Court had recognized that the suffering of the Appellant stemmed from the action of the Respondent yet opined that the Appellant could only be compensated.

The Court referred to the case of Subramanian Swamy v Union Of India [(2016) 7 SCC 221) and reiterated that “Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India gives a fundamental right of speech and expression yet it is circumscribed with certain reasonable restrictions as the freedom of speech cannot be regarded as so righteous that it would make the reputation of another individual absolutely ephemeral. It is further held that the Court when called upon to decide the case of such nature, a balance between the fundamental rights and the reasonable restrictions imposed by the statutory provisions is required to be made in this regard”.

Furthermore, the Court held that courts can grant injunctions in defamation cases, even if the plaintiff can be compensated in monetary terms.

The Court further noted that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions. In balancing the competing interests, courts may grant injunctions in defamation cases to prevent irreparable harm to the plaintiff's reputation, the Court asserted.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Appeal, allowed an interim injunction order, and set aside the impugned order.

Cause Title: Soumendra Kumar Biswas v Sheshadri Goswami and Ors.

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