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HC allows appeal by minister against single judge's gag order

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Press Trust of India Madurai
The Madras High Court Wednesday allowed an appeal filed by Tamil Nadu minister K T Balaji against a single judge's order, restraining him from speaking on adulteration of milk supplied to the public by private dairies.
A division bench, comprising Justices R Subbiah and R Pongiappan, which allowed the appeal, said, "The statement (that private milk products were adulterated) made by the minister against private milk dairies was in general and will not qualify the dairy companies to complain against the minister. They cannot say the statement intended to bring their reputation down, and therefore the minister must be gagged from making such a statement in the future," the judges said.
The minister, being an MLA, cannot be clipped off his duties to enlighten the public towards consumption of healthy and standardised milk and to caution and wean away from those who indulged in adulteration, the judges said.
"We do not find any negative campaigning by the minister through the statements," the judges said.
The judges made it clear that if there was any material to show that the minister's statement was only intended against the plaintiffs, it could be taken up in the trial court.
On the statement of the dairy companies, including Hatsun Agro products, Dodla dairy and Vijay dairy and Farm products Pvt ltd, that their businesses had been hit due to Balaji's statement, the judges said they had not furnished anything to indicate the exact losses suffered by them due to this.
The judges also rejected the contention that their businesses would suffer in the future due to the minister's statement and said they cannot anticipate suffering loss and seek to stop him.
"The minister's statement cannot be said to be the one pointed towards the plaintiffs as a whole. In such an event, the actual loss suffered by the plaintiffs cannot be measured," they said.
Besides, the dairies had filed a suit in the trial court for damages. If they succeeded, they could recover the losses that had occasioned to them in their business, the judges said.
"In a libel action, it must be shown that the imputation has in fact been made against a particular person and that such a person is capable of being identified. Only if prima facie was established, injunction can be granted," they said.
The companies submitted that the minister began his 'vitriolic campaign' against them on a private television channel show on May 24, 2017, which was reported in newspapers the next day under the caption 'Private Dairies Milk Hazardous'.
This affected their business, the companies said.
Balaji had filed an appeal on October 25, 2017 in the Madras High Court against the single judge's order, restraining him from issuing disparaging statements against the private milk producers without any proof.
The minister had alleged that the order issued by Justice C V Karthikeyan would amount to preventing a public servant from discharging legal and political duties.

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First Published: Jan 30 2019 | 8:00 PM IST

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