The Supreme Court has stayed the criminal defamatory proceedings against the Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal husbandry and Dairying, Dr. L. Murugan. The Court while staying the impugned order of the Madras High Court, issued notice to the State on the Minister's plea.

It is pertinent to note that the High Court by the impugned order had dismissed the criminal original petition filed by Murugan, and refused to quash the criminal proceedings against him for the offences under Section 499 and Section 500 IPC. The Court had also directed the Special Court to complete the trial within 3 months. Murugan had challenged the proceedings initiated by the Murasoli Trust (newspaper trust), considered as a mouthpiece of the ruling party DMK, against him before the Assistant Sessions Judge for Trial of Cases related to certain alleged derogatory statements made during a press conference.

A bench of Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra passed the order today. Senior Advocate Siddharth Dave appeared for the Minister in the SLP that has been filed through AoR Geet Ahuja.

In the present matter, the petitioner contended that the Special Leave Petition raises several substantial questions of law requiring interference of the court under Article 136 of the Constitution. The petition reads, “… the present complaint is nothing but a mischievous attempt of gaining undue political mileage.”

In the plea, the petitioner averred that the relevant extract of the petitioner’s statement which allegedly harmed the reputation of the respondent-trust member was, “DMK has no authority to talk about social justice. Everyone knows how DMK Members have been humiliating the Scheduled Caste People. I did not wish to speak of the Parent Title Document (the land in which the DMK’S Murasoli Newspaper office is situated). When I was the Vice-Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, DMK had record its objection that I should not enquire into the complaint against the Parent Title Document. Okay, Stalin, Where it that Parent Title Document? Why are you refusing to produce it? If you are courageous, you can show it. I believe that you will show the Parent Title Document. Otherwise, the Scheduled Caste People will give the appropriate response at the appropriate time”.

The petition further says, “By no stretch of imagination can it be said that the statement could harm reputation of the respondent trust in as much as it only calls upon Stalin, the managing trustee to show title documents pertaining to the land on which the property murasoli newspaper is situated. The statement does not even allege that the newspaper office is situated on land reserved for scheduled caste.”

The petitioner was a lawyer, a member of BJP and presently serving as the Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal husbandry and Dairying. The respondent trust was the publisher of 'Murasoli' a local newspaper in Tamil Nadu and was under the exclusive control of DMK, the current ruling party in Tamil Nadu. The Chief Minister of T.N. was the managing trustee of the respondent trust and several other DMK members were its trustees.

As per the petition, the petitioner, being a political leader, merely highlighted the fact that DMK took all possible means of ensuring that the title documents are not produced before the petitioner and the enquiry into the complaint is stalled and that a statement of this nature cannot ever be said to fall within purview of Explanation 4 of Section 499.

The respondent trust had obtained an interim order whereby the Commission was directed to hold its hands in taking a decision on the complaint filed before it. It was further directed in the order that since there is an allegation of bias against the petitioner, he shall not deal with the proceedings arising out of the complaint.

“By doing so, the respondent trust has stalled the proceedings before the commission and did not furnish the documents to the petitioner. This being the factual matrix, it is clear beyond doubt that the complaint filed by the respondent trust is nothing but a counterblast and an attempt to gain undue political mileage”, submitted the petitioner.

It was further submitted before the Apex Court that it is not the intent of legislature to put behind bars, every person expressing popular view about the ruling government and that the Explanation 4, must be accorded a restrictive and narrow construction in as much as it is a curtailment to right guaranteed under Article 19 and if construed liberally, would take away the very foundation of the democratic setup.

Cause Title: Dr. L Murugan v. Murasoli Trust