Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai will now have to face criminal defamation case filed by a company, with the Supreme Court disposing of her plea seeking clarification whether a private firm can file a criminal defamation case citing a recent judgement. Pillai, against whom Mahan Coal Ltd has filed a criminal defamation case for allegedly carrying out negative publicity and protests over purported irregularities in mining activities, has said that the company can have a civil remedy but not a criminal recourse.
A bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit said nothing remained in the matter as the judgement has already been delivered in the case. “Nothing remains in the matter. We are disposing of the matter in the wake of the judgement already being delivered on the issue. You have the liberty to persue the remedies as per law,” the bench said. The court also granted liberty to BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who sought intervention in Pillai’s plea to file a fresh petition. Pillai, in her petition, had said “a corporate entity cannot be imprisoned for criminal defamation and can only be fined. As such in the interest of Article 14 and equality before the law, it should be able to seek damages, not imprisonment”.
She had said she was “the victim of an abuse of justice and process, by which the respondent through Mahan Coal has used the criminal defamation provision in a strategy against public participation, association, discussion and advocacy.” The activist in her plea said that lodging of a criminal defamation case was not limited to this instance alone, but was “part of a pattern of strategic lawsuits against public participation whereby the corporations are using criminal defamation provisions to persecute and limit the discussions and advocacy, and association around issues concerning issues of public interest and participation.”
On September 5 last year, the apex court had sought response from Centre saying “it is an important issue. We can’t just let it go. The issue needs to be examined.”
The plea said “With the intent of crippling the ability of petitioner, of forests community residents and of members and supporters of Greenpeace India Society, to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, the respondent has embarked on a strategy designed to hijack the Indian justice system for its on private ends, using the criminal defamation provisions to file the instant case not only against the petitioner but also against the international executive director of Greenpeace International.”
Pillai’s petition said that corporations “do not have the same right or interest to be protected as individual citizen from defamation. “Thus individuals such as directors, being allowed to file for alleged defamations as ‘some persons aggrieved’ in section 199 CrPC for the harm of reputation to a company because he can legitimately feel the ‘pinch of it’, is an unconstitutional restriction on the Freedom of Speech and Association with no compelling reasons pursuant to Article 19(2) of the Constitution.”