Supreme Court stays defamation proceedings against Union MoS L Murugan
The defamation proceedings were initiated by former MP and DMK leader RS Bharathi in 2021 for Murugan’s reported derogatory statements against the DMK-affiliated Murasoli Trust
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the criminal defamation proceedings initiated against Union minister of state (MoS) L Murugan at the instance of a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK)-affiliated trust over his remarks made on the land under the possession of the trust in Chennai.
A bench of justices Bhushan R Gavai and PK Mishra also issued the notice to the Murasoli Trust – the complainant in the case against the Minister of State (MoS) in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying, and fixed the matter after six weeks.
Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, representing the former BJP state president, argued that the initiation of the defamation proceedings was completely illegal, and that the complaint was filed with political motives.
“How can a defamation case be filed against me for a statement that I made with respect to the title of the land on which the office of the trust was situated? It was said at a press meeting and some newspapers also carried it. I have a right under Article 19 (free speech) to express my honest opinion on an issue,” Dave added.
Admitting Murugan’s petition, the bench issued notice to the trust and stayed the defamation proceedings pending against the MoS before a Chennai special court.
The defamation proceedings were initiated by former MP and DMK leader RS Bharathi in 2021 for Murugan’s reported derogatory statements against the DMK-affiliated Murasoli Trust.
Murugan had alleged at a press meet in 2020 that the trust’s building in Kodambakkam was built on 12 grounds of Panchami land allotted to persons belonging to Scheduled Caste in the state.
In its complaint, the Trust claimed that Murugan attempted to create an impression as if the Trust was being run on an unauthorised land. It added that the Trust had been functioning for more than 35 years in the same place and that there was no question of challenging its title on the property.
Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK president MK Stalin has been the managing trustee of Murasoli Trust.
On September 5, the Madras high court refused to quash the defamation case against Murugan, noting it is prima facie convinced that the MoS should face the trial and that he is free to raise all the grounds before the trial court that would consider his contentions on merits and in accordance with the law.
“In an offence of defamation, the statements have to be tested only from the point of view of a common man who comes across the statements. Even if the petitioner (Murugan) thinks that there was no imputation and that he had merely put a question, such statements will be understood by others as if he is repeatedly questioning the right and title of the property, over which, the trust is functioning and he also wants to drive home the point that it is functioning in the Panchami land,” the high court said in its order earlier this month.
Rejecting Murugan’s argument that he had the right to make such a statement under Article 19 of the Constitution, the high court said that these are the matters to be decided during trial since they involve appreciation of facts. It had further directed the special court to dispose of the case within three months.