The Bombay high court has refused to pass any interim orders restraining Maharashtra cabinet minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik from making statements or posting content on social media against Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede or his family.
While refusing interim relief on Monday, Justice Madhav Jamdar said that the court did not believe that at the present stage, the allegations made by Malik against Wankhede were “prima facie, totally false”.
The HC passed the order in an application filed by the father of the NCB officer, Dnyandev Wankhede, in his defamation suit against Malik seeking Rs 1.25 crore in damages. Pending hearing in the suit, Dnyandev had sought interim restraint on Malik from making defamatory statements against him or his family.
Dnyandev Wankhede was represented by senior advocate Arshad Shaikh and advocates Divakar Rai and Saurabh Tamhankar.
Malik was represented by senior advocate Atul Damle and advocates Ashish Gaikwad and Rajesh Tekale.
The court also said that Sameer Wankhede was a public officer and some of the allegations made against him by Malik were related to the discharge of his public duty.
However, the court questioned the timing of Malik’s social media posts, saying that the minister started making allegations on Twitter on October 14, after his own son-in-law was arrested by the NCB. This showed that the allegations against Wankhede were “actuated by malice and personal animosity”.
But serious allegations had been made by Malik against Wankhede and it could not be said at this stage the allegations were totally false but he should verify before posting, said the high court.
The court also observed that the allegations were of a serious nature which pertained to Wankhede’s official duties and had even resulted in inquiries being initiated by the Maharashtra government and the NCB against Wankhede. Hence, the court said, it could not impose a blanket prohibition on the minister.
Justice Jamdar has however asked Malik to ensure that in the future, all statements that he would make against Wankhede and his family should be made only after “reasonable verification of facts”.
Malik had mainly made two allegations against Wankhede. The first allegation was that Wankhede was a Muslim by birth and that he had secured the government job by falsely claiming to be from a scheduled caste. The second allegation was that Wankhede had sought illegal gratification in cases filed by the NCB.
The court noted in its 50-page order: “In view of the letter dated 15/11/2021 of Health Officer, E-Ward, MCGM produced on 16/11/2021 it cannot be said at this stage that allegation No.1 is totally false. In view of the affidavit dated 23/10/2021 of panch-Prabhakar Raghoji Sail, it cannot be said at this stage that allegation No. 2 is totally false.”
Refusing to restrain Malik, the HC said: “At the prima facie stage, it cannot be said allegations are totally false. ... Although the plaintiff (Dnyandev Wankhede) has a fundamental right to privacy, the defendant (Malik) has a right to freedom of speech and expression. There has to be a balancing of both fundamental rights.”
A citizen’s right to privacy was implicit in their right to life and they had every right to protect their right to privacy, said the court. However, Wankhede was a public officer so the public too had a right to examine his conduct but that had to be done with reasonable verification.
Justice Jamdar said: “Prima facie, the defendant's act is out of malice but no blanket injunction is possible. But the defendant is directed to make statements only after reasonable verification.”
Last week, Malik submitted a letter from the public health officer of the BMC with a copy of the declaration pertaining to the change of name of Sameer Wankhede. He also submitted the school leaving certificate of Sameer issued by St Joseph’s High School and St Paul High School and the admission form to St Joseph’s.
Dnyandev Wankhede too had submitted additional documents, including his son Sameer’s birth certificate issued by the BMC and the school leaving certificate of the secondary school which mentions his name as ‘Sameer Dnyandev Wankhede’. A caste certificate of 1995 has also been submitted, wherein his name is mentioned as ‘Dnyandev Kachruji Wankhede’.
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‘Satyamev Jayate’: Nawab Malik
Minutes after the Bombay High Court refused to impose a blanket injunction against him, NCP leader and Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik tweeted on Monday: ‘Satyamev Jayate. The fight against wrongdoings will continue.”
Malik later released a video in which he welcomed the HC’s order. “My fight against wrongdoings and injustice will continue. The right to speech is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. Nobody can ban speaking in the country,” he noted.
Malik also indicated that he would continue to make more exposés against NCB Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede based on the documents and proofs that he had gathered.
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