w w w . L a w y e r S e r v i c e s . i n



K.T. Balaji v/s Hastun Agro Product Limited, Represented by its Managing Director R.G. Chandramogan & Others


Company & Directors' Information:- K. N. C. AGRO LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01500WB2005PLC102657

Company & Directors' Information:- F AND K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01111PN1980PTC014563

Company & Directors' Information:- BALAJI CORPORATION PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U45400MH2008PTC178324

Company & Directors' Information:- R T AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15400MH1988PTC122934

Company & Directors' Information:- BALAJI AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U06278WB2000PTC099249

Company & Directors' Information:- N M AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15209DL2000PTC103461

Company & Directors' Information:- K F AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01132PB1998PTC021937

Company & Directors' Information:- T K M AGRO LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01119TZ2000PLC009159

Company & Directors' Information:- M S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01403WB2011PTC163653

Company & Directors' Information:- S K K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01110DL2007PTC163157

Company & Directors' Information:- BALAJI AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Not available for efiling] CIN = U01119AS2000PTC006278

Company & Directors' Information:- P N AGRO PVT LTD [Active] CIN = U01401WB1992PTC056261

Company & Directors' Information:- B R V AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U15139UP2007PTC034299

Company & Directors' Information:- A A AND A AGRO LIMITED [Converted to LLP] CIN = U01111DL1986PLC025101

Company & Directors' Information:- B. P AGRO INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15132DL2019PTC357421

Company & Directors' Information:- M Y AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U51221DL2011PTC215043

Company & Directors' Information:- H R D AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15490PB2006PTC030412

Company & Directors' Information:- C F L AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01409KA2001PTC028797

Company & Directors' Information:- L K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U15140MH1998PTC115185

Company & Directors' Information:- H D AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01111MH1996PTC097451

Company & Directors' Information:- P C L AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74899DL1992PTC049537

Company & Directors' Information:- A S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74899DL1989PTC040467

Company & Directors' Information:- S N N AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01114JH2016PTC008919

Company & Directors' Information:- R R S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U15139DL2010PTC209756

Company & Directors' Information:- AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U51101KA1962PTC001475

Company & Directors' Information:- A R R PRODUCT INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U00292TZ2005PTC011514

Company & Directors' Information:- D. J. AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01112DL1994PTC057414

Company & Directors' Information:- G A AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01229KL2002PTC015736

Company & Directors' Information:- M K B AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01100MH1996PTC101802

Company & Directors' Information:- T D K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U29190BR1991PTC004486

Company & Directors' Information:- S G AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01122KA1995PTC017091

Company & Directors' Information:- AGRO INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01407AR2013PTC008381

Company & Directors' Information:- U & V AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01403TZ2015PTC021823

Company & Directors' Information:- B A B AGRO LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U24231MH1993PLC073114

Company & Directors' Information:- B A B AGRO LTD [Active] CIN = U24233WB1987PLC043179

Company & Directors' Information:- B C M AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01119WB1999PTC090308

Company & Directors' Information:- K. K. AGRO PVT. LTD. [Strike Off] CIN = U51420WB1987PTC042090

Company & Directors' Information:- H & W AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01400MH2012PTC238144

Company & Directors' Information:- K D AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Converted to LLP] CIN = U15312DL2005PTC131996

Company & Directors' Information:- H R AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01119PB1995PTC016403

Company & Directors' Information:- C K N AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01300KL2020PTC064742

Company & Directors' Information:- A Q AGRO PVT LTD [Under Process of Striking Off] CIN = U51209WB2006PTC109930

Company & Directors' Information:- S E AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U52500AP2016PTC103446

Company & Directors' Information:- S U B AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U24129PN2000PTC015404

Company & Directors' Information:- A S G AGRO LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01119HR2004PLC035459

Company & Directors' Information:- T & T AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01132WB1999PTC090368

Company & Directors' Information:- M R P PRODUCT PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U17111UP1993PTC015576

Company & Directors' Information:- C L AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U74120UP2012PTC051898

Company & Directors' Information:- P M S AGRO PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U29211PB1994PTC014448

Company & Directors' Information:- S & P AGRO PRODUCT PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01111TN2005PTC056416

Company & Directors' Information:- BALAJI AGRO CORPORATION PRIVATE LIMITED [Under Process of Striking Off] CIN = U74140DL2012PTC229626

Company & Directors' Information:- B R K AGRO PRIVATE LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U29211PB1994PTC014302

Company & Directors' Information:- R E I AGRO LTD. [Active] CIN = U01111WB1994PLC065082

Company & Directors' Information:- P & S AGRO INDIA LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01403MH2011PLC214782

Company & Directors' Information:- D N D AGRO (INDIA) LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01403PN2011PLC139235

Company & Directors' Information:- L C A AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01112UP2005PTC029657

Company & Directors' Information:- V M G AGRO INDIA LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01100MP2011PLC026434

Company & Directors' Information:- G D AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U24122UP1993PTC015164

Company & Directors' Information:- P B AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Amalgamated] CIN = U26960MH1990PTC057137

Company & Directors' Information:- R A P AGRO INDIA PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U14200WB2006PTC107514

Company & Directors' Information:- G T AGRO INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U74899DL2005PTC142577

Company & Directors' Information:- F AND K AGRO PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U29248PN1980PTC022759

Company & Directors' Information:- E M AGRO (INDIA) PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U02001UP1997PTC022261

Company & Directors' Information:- J S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01300PB1993PTC013943

Company & Directors' Information:- A N AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01119DL1996PTC081855

Company & Directors' Information:- V R L AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U85110KA1999PTC024717

Company & Directors' Information:- P. S. R. AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U24248UP1974PTC004017

Company & Directors' Information:- O N AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74899DL1988PTC031986

Company & Directors' Information:- K R S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01400PN2011PTC141711

Company & Directors' Information:- J K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U74900PY2011PTC002548

Company & Directors' Information:- W B S AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01122PB2003PTC025879

Company & Directors' Information:- G T M AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U01100MH2005PTC150816

Company & Directors' Information:- BALAJI PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U25190MH2011PTC225580

Company & Directors' Information:- Y K AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Converted to LLP and Dissolved] CIN = U74999DL2013PTC250398

Company & Directors' Information:- N P M AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U15494DL2011PTC214942

Company & Directors' Information:- B L B AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Strike Off] CIN = U51200DL2012PTC244511

Company & Directors' Information:- D A AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U74900DL2015PTC288168

Company & Directors' Information:- D. B. AGRO PRIVATE LIMITED [Active] CIN = U01100MP2010PTC025035

    Original Side Appeal No. 318 of 2017

    Decided On, 30 January 2019

    At, High Court of Judicature at Madras

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE R. SUBBIAH & THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE R. PONGIAPPAN

    For the Appellant: V. Raghavachari, Advocate. For the Respondents: P.R. Raman, Senior Advocate, V.C. Seethapathy, Advocate.



Judgment Text

(Prayer: Appeal filed under Clause 15 of The Letters Patent 1865 and Order XXXVI Rule 1 of The Original Side Rules against the Order dated 20.10.2017 passed in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017 on the file of this Court.)

R. Subbiah, J.

1. This intra-court appeal has been preferred against the Order dated 20.10.2017 passed by the learned single Judge of this Court in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017, whereby the appellant/defendant was restrained from making any statement or remarks, disparaging the applicants/ respondents, or the products manufactured by them either in print or visual media, by making baseless accusations of adulteration against private dairies in Tamil Nadu as a whole, pending disposal of the suit.

2. The appellant herein is the defendant in the suit filed by the respondents in C.S. No. 529 of 2017. The suit was filed by the respondents for the following relief (s):-

(i) To direct the defendant to pay the first plaintiff a sum of Rs.1,00,00,000/- towards damages suffered by the plaintiff as a direct consequence of the defendant's statement made in TV channels and other medias against the first plaintiff's milk and milk products, together with interest thereon @ 24% per annum from this date till the date of realisation thereof;

(ii) To direct the defendant to pay the second plaintiff a sum of Rs.1,00,00,000/- towards damages suffered by the plaintiff as a direct consequence of the defendant's statement made in TV channels and other medias against the first plaintiff's milk and milk products, together with interest thereon @ 24% per annum from this date till the date of realisation thereof;

(iii) To direct the defendant to pay the third plaintiff a sum of Rs.1,00,00,000/- towards damages suffered by the plaintiff as a direct consequence of the defendant's statement made in TV channels and other medias against the first plaintiff's milk and milk products, together with interest thereon @ 24% per annum from this date till the date of realisation thereof;

(iv) For permanent injunction restraining the defendant from making any statements or remarks or insinuations directly disparaging the plaintiff's milk and/or milk products manufactured and marketed by them, to the media, both print and visual including any other mode of mass communication or social media or indirectly by making denigrating and baseless accusations of adulteration against private dairies in Tamilnadu, as a whole

(v) Direct the defendant to pay the costs of the suit;

(vi) and pass such further or other orders as this Honourable Court deem fit and proper and thus render justice.”

3. For the sake of easy reference, the appellant in this appeal is referred as 'defendant' and the respondents are referred as 'plaintiffs', as per their litigative status in the suit.

4. The Plaint averments can succinctly be stated as under:-

(I) The Plaintiffs are private companies engaged in the business of procurement and sale of milk in the State of Tamil Nadu and in other parts of the Country. The plaintiffs are the leading private players in the market and supplies more than half of the entire share of milk and milk product required in the State. The plaintiffs have engaged their men directly and indirectly and they put in use modern machineries to ensure efficient and hygiene conditions of the products they deal with inter alia comply with the requirements under the applicable laws including Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The plaintiffs are fully aware of the consequences of not adhering to hygienic standards which includes cancellation of the license issued under the Milk and Milk Product Order, 1992. According to the plaintiffs, over the years, the plaintiffs in particular and most of the private dairies in general have faced unnecessary policing through needless intervention and disruption by officials of Dairy Development Department. According to the plaintiffs, the perceived threat to Aavin Milk and Milk Products from private dairies appeared to be the reason for such needless harassment. However, with the introduction of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the Food Adulteration Act, 1954 stood repealed and so also the Milk and Milk Product Order, 1992 and hence, there was no lawful authority for Dairy Development officials to interfere, supervise or question in any manner the activities of private dairies or even draw samples. Even though stray incidents did show the antagonism and result in unfair and abusive exercise of assumed authority by such officials, the private players have emerged to be highly successful. Notwithstanding such obstacles, the plaintiffs, particularly the first plaintiff, happens to be the largest private dairy in India and the single largest player in Tamil Nadu.

(ii) While facts are so, the defendant, who is the Minister for Dairy Development in the State of Tamil Nadu, had recently started a media campaign against private dairies. The defendant made mud-slinging allegations against the private dairies which cannot form part of his official duties especially when the department of dairy development does not have anything to do with the private players. According to the plaintiffs, the statements made by the defendant are nothing but a scurrilous attack besides being unsubstantiated.

(iii) According to the plaintiffs, the defendant began his vitriolic campaign against the private dairies in a private Television Channel on 24.05.2017 which were reported in the newspapers the next day under the caption “Private Dairies Milk Hazardous”. The defendant made statement to the effect that consuming private producers milk or milk products was the cause of cancer occurring in many children and therefore, people should think twice before consuming milk sold by private dairies. Further, the defendant has stated that the milk manufactured by private dairies are having longer shelf-life only because preservatives are added. At the same blush, the defendant had stated that aavin milk marketed by the Government is the safest milk available for consumption by all. The defendant notwithstanding such unsubstantiated averments went on to state that samples drawn from private dairies have been sent to a lab in Pune and he was collecting details of private producers using preservatives or chemicals in milk products which would cause more harm to the consumers. The defendant further stated that the milk produced in private dairies have longer shelf life only because they contain preservatives. The defendant further asserted that once the reports from the lab are collected, he, as a Minister of the State, would take necessary action against the private players. According to the plaintiffs, such a statement made by the defendant is clearly an attempt to promote “aavin” brand milk while denigrating the products of the competitors.

(iv) On 25.05.2017, a day after, another statement of the defendant was published in one issue of “Dinamani”. As per the statement, the defendant claimed that secret teams have been sent to various Districts such as Chennai, Salem, Trichy and Madurai to investigate into adulteration by private dairies. Similarly, on 26.05.2017, yet another statement made by the defendant was published in which he claimed that private milk dairies can turn “curd into milk”. Further, he has been quoted as saying that the Government has set up four committees to collect milk sample from all milk companies to be tested at Chennai, Salem, Madurai and Trichy. The defendant also stated that the private dairy players are playing with the lives of the people and only after checking the packaged milk for nearly five months, he was levelling these charges. The defendant further went on to state that the private players were using hydrogen peroxide and chlorine to prevent milk getting spoiled. Hereagain, the defendant made an assertion that 'aavin' milk is like mother's milk which will spoil within five hours. The charge as if Hydrogen Peroxide was being used to produce a bleaching white effect of the milk product was probably the most absurd and astounding attack made by the defendant.

(v) According to the plaintiffs, similar statement was made by the defendant and it was prominently published in the newspapers under the heading “Formaldehyde found in milk brands – says Government”. The report implied that three samples were found to have formaldehyde when tested at the department's laboratory at Madhavaram. The defendant quoted as saying that he throws an open challenge that the private players have to prove that their milk was of good quality. It is the contention of the plaintiffs that the aavin laboratory at Madhavaram does not have any recognition or approval from the Food Safety and Standards Authority and the results or testing done there will not reflect standard of the milk properly. If at all any sample is drawn, it has to be sent to the Regional Laboratory designated under the Food Safety and Standards Act after obtaining the signature of the seller and members of the public.

(vi) The Plaintiffs further contend that on 27.05.2017 yet another news item was published in the Tamil Daily “Dinakaran” wherein the defendant is quoted as saying that private dairies are dealing with adulterated milk by mixing of chemicals and steps are being taken to shut them down. The defendant went on to say that the tests carried out by Madhavaram Milk Depot confirm that Hydrogen Peroxide, bleaching powder and caustic soda were mixed whereby the private players, for the purpose of earning money, are playing with the lives of the consumers. He also stated that the samples sent to the Laboratory at Pune and at Kings Institute, Guindy are awaited. The very same statement of the defendant was also published in another Tamil Daily namely “Dina Thanthi” on 27.05.2017. On 28.05.2017, an English Daily “Deccan Chronical” has published a statement of the defendant in which the defendant has purportedly stated that formaldehyde was being used as a preservative by private dairies which has been confirmed in the test done at Madhavaram and Guindy, while the test result from Central Lab in Mysore was awaited. In the very same statement, it was reported that the defendant has stated that “ready to hang if proved wrong – Dairy Minister”. The defendant also stated that barring a very few, most private dairies are mixing chemicals such as 'Formaldehyde' as confirmed by Laboratories at Guindy and Central Lab report from mysore was expected in 25 days. Further, on 30.05.2017, a statement made by the defendant was published in “Deccan Chronicle” English daily wherein the defendant was quoted as saying that more than 50 per cent of the private milk suppliers were mixing chemicals and action will be taken against them. On the same day, “Times of India”, an English Daily, published a report that the Director of State Public Health Laboratory in Pune has stated that the samples received from Tamil Nadu was from Erode in June 2016 and no toxic chemicals were found. The report carried in the “Times of India” news daily would contradict the claim of the defendant. The Director of State Public Health Authority was interviewed by the Times of India reporters, the contents of which the plaintiff rely upon, to show that the statements made by the defendant are completely baseless and made deliberately to unfairly denigrate and tarnish them and the products which they deal with inter alia to bring down their good will and reputation built all through the years by hard labour and careful observation of safety and quality standards.

(vii) The Plaintiffs would further contend that on 30.05.2017, the English Daily – “The Hindu” carried a news item quoting the defendant as claiming that the private dairies were adding chemicals in milk leading to kidney, liver and heart diseases. The defendant further alleged a conspiracy angle by saying that if he divulged when the results of the test done at Central Laboratory, Pune would come, the private companies would exercise undue influence and change the results. He also alleged that some of the laboratories refused to take the samples because private dairies had wielded enormous pressure on them not to accept the samples.

(viii) The plaintiffs would further state that believing the statements made by the defendant as true, a Public Interest Litigation Petition was filed by one Advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam before this Court in which this Court directed the authorities concerned to file a status report on the action taken on complaints of milk adulteration. Accordingly, a status report was filed in which none of the private dairies have been named as violator of the provisions of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

(ix) According to the plaintiffs, by such unsubstantiated statement made by the defendant, it had created an indelible feeling in the minds of the consumers, who hitherto had consumed their products without any complaint. The statements made by the defendant are meant to create a sense of fear psychosis and panic in the minds of the consumers. These statements are also meant to create a sense of disgust and revulsion on milk and milk products manufactured by the private dairies as a whole and the plaintiffs products in particular. The defendant, while making such accusations and press statements, is not performing any official duty as Minister of the State. The department of Dairy Development does not have any control over private dairies nor is there any regulation that allows the Ministry of Dairy Development to interfere with the plaintiffs legitimate commercial activities. The denigrating campaign of the defendant has been well established that he is cautiously referring to only private dairies in particular. Further, at one breadth, the defendant accuses all the private dairies of engaging in adulteration exercise. According to the plaintiffs, this is a concerted effort on the part of the defendant to keep the milk consuming public in dark on the purportedly errant private dairies, thereby exposing every private dairy to the risk of being subjected to suspicion of adulteration while improving the sales of 'aavin' brand of milk and milk products. In this direction, on 28.06.2017, the defendant claimed that the dairy whitener samples of 2 named companies were proved to be adulterated by Central Government approved laboratory since the samples contained Caustic soda and bleaching powder. However, the two named companies have denied the allegations relating to adulteration. In fact, the defendant has handed over a test report dated 16.06.2017 to the press which does not disclose any adulteration. Further, there is nothing in the report to suggest presence of caustic soda or bleaching powder. The defendant has no intention of ceasing his campaign of spreading false and denigrating information to cause damage to the private dairies. It is in these circumstances, the plaintiffs have come forward with the suit for the relief as prayed for.

5. Pending suit, the plaintiffs have taken out an application in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017 for interim injunction reiterating the averments made in the plaint inter alia contending that the defendant has caused massive damage to the reputation and goodwill earned by the plaintiffs through his statements in the electronic and print media and such statements are not only unsubstantiated but made to create a sense of fear and panic in the minds of the consumers of the milk products manufactured by the plaintiffs. According to the applicants/plaintiffs, the statements so made by the defendant are unfair and malicious intended to market the aavin milk at the cost of the competitors like the plaintiffs. Therefore, the plaintiffs prayed for an order to restrain the defendant from making any further statement through the electronic or print media especially when the damage already caused are impossible to undo.

6.(i) Repudiating the averments made in the Original Application No. 673 of 2017, the defendant contended that the suit has been filed by the plaintiffs with an intention to threaten and intimidate the defendant from discharging his lawful duties as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The defendant represents the entire community as a whole and he owes a duty towards the general public to appraise them of the adulteration in essential food products. According to the defendant, the statements which he had furnished are supported by materials and only on the strength of the same, he had cautioned the general public with respect to adulteration in milk and milk products resorted to by private dairies. It is the defence of the defendant that the statements he made are intended to create awareness among the consumers of milk and milk products. Referring to the Judgment dated 05.08.2016 of the Honourable Supreme Court in SLP (Crl.1379 of 2011) and Criminal Appeal No. 472 of 2002 (batch) the defendant would contend that the Central and State governments were directed to take appropriate steps to implement the provisions contained under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and it is in that direction, he had acted fairly and reasonably to safeguard the interest of the common man as a whole. The Judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court also directed the State Government of its obligations to inform the owners of the dairy operators and retailers that chemical adulterations like pesticide, caustic soda and other chemicals should not be used in the milk and milk products. Thus, according to the defendant, it is his obligation to ensure that there is no adulteration in the supply of milk and milk products by the private players. While so, his statements intended to disseminate information to the general public cannot be brought within the fold of an act of tort. The defendant would therefore contend that there is nothing wrong on his part to inform the public, as a Minister and Member of the Legislative Assembly, about the impending danger to their lives on account of adulteration caused in the milk and milk products by the private dairies.

(ii) It is the contention of the defendant that aavin is a cooperative body and it has its own set of customers. The interference by the Government in cooperative societies is limited. The Government only appoints a Civil Servant as a Managing Director of Aavin and except such a function, the government has nothing to interfere with the affairs of aavin. It is an independent body and the allegations of the plaintiffs that the defendant is promoting the products of aavin is baseless.

(iii) Defending the averments of the plaintiffs that they have been in the business of milk and milk products and have gained reputation and goodwill through supply and manufacture of hygienic products, the defendant would contend that the second plaintiff was once served with a show cause notice for having indulged in adulteration of milk. The concerned authorities have seized the product of the second plaintiff and destroyed the adulterated product. In the show cause notice issued by the Commissioner of Milk Product and Dairy Development, Chennai, it was specifically pointed out that there is presence of Hydrogen Peroxide in the milk seized from the premises of the second plaintiff. In response to the show cause notice, the second plaintiff, by a reply dated 30.07.2011, admitted their guilt and only claimed that the absence of technical staff had resulted in the presence of foreign agents. This solitary incident alone would show that the second plaintiff exhibited lack of apathy and concern for the public by selling adulterated products. After admitting the guilt, the premises of the second plaintiff was de-sealed after a reprimand. The plaintiffs, for the reasons best known, did not quote the aforesaid incident of sealing and de-sealing of premises of the 2 nd plaintiff, in their plaint and it would amount to suppression of material particulars.

(iv) Referring to the first plaintiff, the defendant would contend that the first plaintiff's milk product was found to have contained expired 'edible lactose' and it was mixed with skimmed milk powder. In other words, the first plaintiff has used some products which had lost it's shelf life. Therefore, when proceedings against the first plaintiff were initiated, the first plaintiff moved the Division Bench of this Court and this Court by Judgment dated 27.01.2011 in W.A. No. 1003 of 2009, upheld the action initiated against the first plaintiff as the one resorted to in accordance with law. The order passed by the Division Bench of this Court was also subsequently confirmed by the Honourable Supreme Court. Thus, it is evident that there are precedents where the first and second plaintiffs indulged in selling adulterated milk or milk products for which action was taken against them.

(v) The defendant also made reference about the third plaintiff adding excess skimmed milk powder with the milk. The product of the third plaintiff was sent to the referral food laboratory, Pune on 31.05.2017 and a report was issued wherein it was confirmed that the milk testing turned positive for presence of skimmed milk products.

(vi) The defendant proceeded to submit that he had given an interview in a Television Channel taking note of the value of the life of the common man who consume milk or milk products manufactured by the private dairies. The opinion so rendered by him can be substantiated by laboratory reports from the competent bodies and therefore, it cannot be said that the statements made by the defendant are baseless or unsubstantiated. According to the defendant, in none of the averments made in the plaint, there was any reference made by the plaintiffs that they were accused by the defendant. The statement made by the defendant are generic and not intended to harm any one who conducts ethical business. If the plaintiffs carries on their business ethically and in accordance with the provisions contained under The Food Safety and Standards Act and the Rules made therein, they need not have filed the present suit. On the other hand, the statements made by the defendant had made the plaintiffs feel that they are intended against them when in fact it was not so. The defendant is not responsible for the misapprehension on the part of the plaintiffs and the defendant will continue to campaign as a public servant and expose the unscrupulous businessmen who indulge in adulteration.

(vii) It is the vehement contention of the defendant that the suit is not maintainable against him when he discharges his duties as a public servant in good faith. There is no personal animosity on the part of the defendant against the plaintiffs and it is also not their case. When the defendant cautioned the general public to be careful against adulteration, it cannot be said that the defendant had caused injury to the plaintiffs or their business. As far as the plaintiffs conduct their business ethically and in compliance with the Rule of law, they are least concerned about the statements made by the defendant. As a Minister of the State, the defendant is concerned with the lives of the general public and any statement made or information he has furnished is intended to safeguard the public or unwary customers of milk or milk products from the perils of adulteration. In any event, according to the defendant, the plaintiffs have not furnished any material as to how their business reputation has come down or affected by virtue of the statements made by him. By filing the plaint, the plaintiffs have only intended to intimidate him that they would muzzle freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to the defendant under the Constitution of India.

(viii) It is the further contention of the defendant that he, as a Minister of the State has no obligation to market the products of aavin. In fact, several tests were conducted by the Government to ensure the quality with which aavin milk and milk products are sold. If the products supplied by aavin are found to be adulterated, appropriate action will be taken against the erring officials and there will not be any discrimination in taking action against those who indulged in adulteration. The defendant reiterated that he came to know about adulteration in the milk or milk products manufactured and supplied by certain companies by adding neutralizers, starch, sugar cane, salt, hydrogen products, pesticide, urea, formaldehyde and detergents. Whenever such information relating to adulteration is brought to his notice, the defendant asserts that as a Minister of the State, he has every right to test the products and to take further course of action in that direction, including launching criminal prosecution against the errands.

(ix) As far as the claim for damages, the defendant would contend that the plaintiffs have not come forward with the volume of the business which had fallen down drastically or so badly on account of the statements made by him. In the absence of assessment of actual damage, the plaintiffs are estopped from instituting a suit for compensation based on illusion. The plaintiffs, without pleadings as regards the actual and precise damage caused them, have come forward with the present suit claiming damages. There is no cause of action to institute the present suit and the suit deserves only to be dismissed.

7.(i) The plaintiffs have filed a reply affidavit to the counter affidavit filed by the defendant contending that after serving the counter affidavit filed in the above application on 26.07.2017 and notwithstanding the interim order of this Court dated 10.07.2017, the counsel for the defendant Mr. Vijay addressed the members of the press on 28.07.2017 and 30.07.2017 making reckless and unsubstantiated allegations, besides exhibiting the milk sachets of the plaintiffs based upon analysis reports from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. However, in the typed set of documents filed along with the counter affidavit, there is no test report filed from any analysts from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, however, it was alleged that the test reports have been received which would prove the allegations made by the defendant are true. In order to allay the fears of the consumers, the plaintiffs have made a press statement which appeared in newspapers on 30.07.2017. Further, after the interim order was granted on 10.07.2017, the defendant directed the officials of the Department of Dairy Development to take samples of the products manufactured by the first and third plaintiffs purportedly for testing, for which the defendant has no authority and if at all testing had to be done, it was for the Food Safety and Standards Authorities to do so. Thus, the defendant was attempting to take samples without any authority of law and to fabricate report against the plaintiffs. In such circumstances, the first and third plaintiffs were constrained to file WP Nos. 18951 and 18952 of 2017 before this Court for a Writ of Prohibition prohibiting the officials of the Department of Dairy Development from interfering with the business of the plaintiffs by resorting to drawal of illegal sampling and testing. On 25.07.2017, this Court granted an interim order.

(ii) As regards the allegations that the suit was filed only to threaten and blackmail the defendant, it was stated that the defendant, being a Member of the Cabinet of Minister has enormous power and authority and the question of blackmailing the defendant will not arise. The defendant, as a responsible public servant is expected to act fairly and conduct himself in a manner befitting his post as Member of the State Cabinet of Ministers and not indulge in mudslinging character assassination in order to hamper the private dairies as a whole. There is nothing wrong on the part of the defendant to inform the public at large against the impending dangers of adulteration but it should not be at the costs of the private dairies and by making reckless and malicious allegations. The allegation that the defendant has no interest in promoting the products of aavin cannot be countenanced inasmuch as the Managing Director of Aavin is also the Commissioner of Dairy Development working under the direct authority and control of the Minister for Dairy Development. The plaintiffs never contended that the defendant, as a Member of the Cabinet of Minister, has no authority to caution the public about the adulterated food products, including milk, but the grievance of the plaintiffs is that in the guise of cautioning the public, the defendant has made reckless and unsubstantiated allegations thereby indirectly caused innumerable loss of reputation and goodwill to the plaintiffs and similarly placed private dairies.

(iii) The plaintiffs would further contend that the allegation made in the counter affidavit regarding the sealing of one of the Chilling Centres at Chengam during July 2011 is misleading. It is stated that an inspection was carried on a Sunday, 3 rd July 2011 when only casual labourers were present from whom an undertaking was obtained by coercion as if empty milk cans were found with Hydrogen Peroxide. After several representations and further reminders justifying the operation of the Chilling Centre, it was opened on 14.03.2012. These allegations regarding closure of Chilling Unit was made only to dig up some information concerning the alleged transgression committed by the plaintiffs and to make it as if the plaintiffs have a history of not following the Food Safety standards. The allegation that the second plaintiff indulged in adulteration and later admitted it is false. There was no reprimand issued by any authority as against the second plaintiff. Similarly, the first plaintiff did not indulge in any adulteration as alleged. The order passed by this Court in WP No. 18234 of 2008 and the judgment of affirmation made by the Division Bench of this Court in W.A. No. 1005 of 2008 dated 27.01.2011 will disprove the allegations made by the plaintiff. Similar is the case of the third plaintiff against whom allegations were made by the defendant as if the third plaintiff indulged in adulteration. The report dated 16.06.2017 which the defendant referred to relates to the Referral Food Laboratory, Pune in respect of full cream milk manufactured by the third plaintiff and the report received thereof clearly reveals that the sample conforms to standards. It was clearly stated in the report that addition of Solid Non Fats (SNF's) in the form of skimmed milk powder to increase the SNF content to comply is permitted under Food Safety and Standards Act.

(iv) Referring to page No.8 of the typed set of papers filed by the defendant along with the counter, it was stated that the report of the Public Analyst dated 27.12.2006 in respect of the first plaintiff is totally irrelevant to the present dispute which concerns the disparaging statement of the defendant made in the month of May 2017. The first plaintiff does not possess any record to disprove the content of the report dated 27.12.2006 which was obtained a decade back. Further, the documents filed from page Nos. 89 to 101 are test reports of milk and milk products from samples purportedly sent by the Dairy Officer of Dairy Development Department, Madhavaram, much after the unsubstantiated statement made by the defendant. The report of the Dairy Development Officer, Madhavaram bearing Report No.88/17 claims that sample conforms to standards prescribed under the Food Safety and Standard Act but adulterated due to presence of Formaldehyde. The samples collected from open market have been tested by the Dairy Officer on 28.05.2017 and the report has been produced to satisfy the claims of the defendant. However, none of these reports have any legal sanctity since they are issued by an incompetent authority to test the product. Yet another category of documents produced along with the counter affidavit are reports issued by King Institute, Guindy, Chennai. The Dairy Officer, Madhavaram has sent the samples to King Institute, Guindy, which is again not a procedure contemplated under the Food Safety and Standards Act. The Dairy Officer is not competent and empowered to send any samples for being tested nor King Institute, Guindy is an accredited laboratory as per the notification No. SO 1299 (E) dated 29.03.2016 under Section 47 of the Food Safety and Standards Act to test samples of private dairies. According to the plaintiffs, the defendant, based on stray reports collected from unrecognised laboratories made objectionable, baseless and disparaging accusations against the private dairies. In any event, the reports filed as documents along with the counter affidavit have not been obtained after following the procedure prescribed under Section 47 of The Food Safety and Standards Act. The drawal of samples and obtaining report therefor have to be done as per Rule 2.4.4 of The Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011 which was not followed in the present case. In fact, by following the procedure contemplated under the Rules, the Food Safety Officer, Palacode Taluk, Dharmapuri had drawn samples on 01.06.2017 from the first plaintiff's Arokya Pasteurized Full Cream Milk 500 ml sachets and the test report received by the plaintiffs on 04.07.2017 confirms to the standards. Thus, the statements made by the defendant on the basis of the reports obtained from unrecognised laboratory and without following the procedure for drawal of samples cannot be relied on by the defendant to show that the plaintiffs have indulged in adulteration of milk and milk products. The defendant, on the strength of such reports, which will not bind the plaintiffs, has made scathing attack against all the private dairies as a class of persons and such persons have a right under the Common law to seek protection from this Court. The defendant cannot claim that he is discharging public duty while making unsubstantiated statement and accusations against the private dairies without any iota of proof. The plaintiffs have instituted the suit against the defendant in his personal capacity and not in his capacity as a Cabinet Minister of the State. The defendant had chosen to use his office as Ministry of Dairy Development to defend his statements when in fact the suit has been laid against him in his personal capacity. If the milk or milk products manufactured by the plaintiffs are said to be adulterated, even a layman can make a complaint to the competent authorities by following the procedures contemplated under the Food Safety and Standard Act and the Rules made thereon and therefore, it is not necessary for the defendant to make unsubstantiated statement in the guise of protecting the interest of the consumers. Therefore, the plaintiffs prayed for allowing the application filed by them in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017.

8. Before the learned single Judge, it was submitted on behalf of the plaintiffs that the plaintiffs have made out a prima facie case for grant of interim injunction against the defendant and they are entitled to protection against the disparaging remarks and/or statement made by the defendant against the private dairies in general. On the other hand, the defendant would contend that since the statements made by the defendant are not intended against the plaintiffs and when the defendant did not specifically name the plaintiffs in his statement, there is no cause of action at all for instituting the present suit.

9. The learned single Judge, after analysing the rival submissions made has passed the Order dated 20.10.2017 in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017 which reads as follows:-

53. I am deliberately not examining the events complained in the rejoinder affidavit. It is a mute point whether in a suit for damages, compensation can be sought for continuing disparagement. However, it must be pointed out that while granting the order on 10.07.2017, this Court had observed “if there is substantial materials to prove adulteration, he specify the name of the Private Company which indulge in such adulteration and also produce necessary document to substantiate his charge. Unfortunately, encouraging his advocate to address the press, again disparaging the products of the private milk manufacturers and alluding to the plaintiffs, without any substantiating document, necessitates this Court to grant an injunction as prayed for by the plaintiffs.

It would be advisable for the parties to let in oral and documentary evidence to justify their rival stands. Till final adjudication, it is essential that an order of injunction is in force.

However, this Court further directs that the three Plaintiffs must subject their milk and milk products for voluntary test analysis in accredited laboratories in accordance with procedure laid down in law, once every three months and file the reports before this Court. The results can be used by both the plaintiffs and the defendant to justify their respective stands during trial.

With such observations, an order of interim injunction till disposal of the suit is granted a sprayed for in I.A. No. 673 of 2017. No costs.”

10. It is this order dated 20.10.2017 passed in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017 passed by the learned single Judge is challenged in the present Original Side Appeal filed by the appellant/defendant.

11. The learned counsel appearing for the appellant/defendant would contend that the appellant was elected as a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and he is presently holding the portfolio of Minister for Milk and Dairy Development in the Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries Department in the Government of Tamil Nadu. As a Minister of the State and a public functionary, the defendant owes a duty cast upon him to appraise the public at large regarding the adulteration or contamination in the milk and milk products, which he precisely discharged. Such discharge of duty is also in tune with the Judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court rendered on 05.08.2016 in a Public Interest Litigation titled "Swamy Achyutanand Tirth vs. Union of India, In the said case, the Honourable Supreme Court has taken judicial notice of the growing menace of adulterated and synthetic milk in different parts of the country and directed the States and Union Territories to take appropriate steps as are necessary to curb the menace.

12. The learned counsel would proceed to demonstrate that the plaintiffs are private milk producers and they have instituted the present suit for damages without any evidence to substantiate their claim. He invited the attention of the Court to the prosecution launched against the first plaintiff in the year 2008 for having mixed expired edible lactose with Hatsun skimmed milk powder and when the first plaintiff approached this Court, the Division Bench of this court refused to interfere with the prosecution so launched against them. According to the counsel for the defendant, the second plaintiff was also found to have sold 5000 litres of adulterated milk containing hydrogen peroxide in the year 2011 and eventually faced prosecution. According to the counsel for the defendant, the above details are furnished because they were suppressed by the plaintiffs in the present suit and projected as though they have never committed any adulteration in their business at any point of time. In any event, the statements made by the defendant in his capacity of Minister for Milk and Dairy Development is with an avowed object of bringing to the notice of the general public about the adulterated milk and milk products supplied by certain gullible private milk dairies and those statements are not intended against the plaintiffs. The statements made by the defendant cannot be construed as the one made against all the private dairies or they are intended to highlight that all the private dairy milk or milk products are bad. The statements were made against only those who indulged in adulteration and not against the genuine and ethical private dairies. In this context, the learned counsel for the defendant relied on a newspaper report published in “Deccan Chronicle”, Chennai Edition on 30.05.2017 to the effect that "there is no denying in fact that these private manufactures resort to mixing chemicals with milk. This has to be stopped and more than 50 per cent of the private milk suppliers resort to such practices. Government will ensure that people will get quality milk." Even in the English Daily “The Hindu”, a report was published by quoting the defendant as saying that "there were about 70 private milk companies in the State and not all of them were mixing chemicals, but their quality was not upto the mark." These statements, if read as a whole, would indicate that the statements made by the defendant are in the nature of cautioning the general public against adulteration in the milk or milk products and not intended directly against the plaintiffs. Thus, the statements are not specific but are generic, not intended against the plaintiffs.

13. The learned counsel for the appellant/defendant further proceeded to contend that on 22.05.2017, milk samples from the first plaintiff's milk brand Arokya Full Cream Milk were subjected to analysis at the MMPR's quality Control Laboratory approved by the Government of India and the report indicates that samples contain traces of formaldehyde. Similarly, another sample drawn on 25.05.2017 was subjected to test but that sample was found to be in order. A similar sample from the milk product of one SKA Dairy Foods Private Limited (Arjuna Double toned milk) and LP Dairy (Ahimsa) milk were subjected to analysis and the test report indicated that the samples were found to contain formaldehyde. On the same day namely 25.05.2017, tests were also carried out on the products sold by the second plaintiff as well as Thirumala Milk Products Private Limited and Heritage Foods Limited and the report has no indication about any adulteration. Thus, variety of brands of milk products, including milk product of aavin were also subjected to tests and it would only indicate that the plaintiffs are not targeted with any motive. It was on the basis of the above reports that the appellant/defendant had addressed the press on various dates between 25.05.2017 and 30.05.2017. While so, the suit filed by the plaintiffs claiming as if the defendant had sullied their image and reputation cannot be countenanced. Further, the plaintiffs have questioned the reports obtained from the lab approved by the Government of India as irrelevant by stating that the reports were obtained from a lab which was not accredited under the Food Safety and Standards Act. Even though some of the reports obtained indicate adulteration the plaintiffs have filed the present suit claiming damages and seek for injunction notwithstanding the fact that the names of the plaintiffs were not mentioned by the appellant/defendant in any of the statements he made, the claim of the plaintiffs for damages at the rate of Rs.1 crore for each of the plaintiffs is per se not maintainable. Even in the counter statement of the defendant it has been clearly stated that the statements the defendant had made were not intended against the plaintiffs but they were generic to caution the general public against adulteration in milk by certain private dairies. The defendant has made statements only on the basis of lab reports and even in those statements, there were no reference about any of the plaintiffs. Even the lab reports were also filed before the learned single Judge but the learned single Judge has concluded as though no material has been produced to substantiate the claim of the defendant. Further, the learned single Judge went on to render a finding that by reason of the statements made by the defendant, the families of the workers engaged by the plaintiffs were made to suffer. Such a plea has not been made either in the plaint or in the affidavit filed in support of the application for injunction while so, such a finding is not sustainable.

14. Referring to the observations made by the learned single Judge in para No.46 of the order under challenge to the effect that “no one can disparage a class of products of manufacturers within which plaintiffs fall and then raise a defence that the plaintiffs have not been specifically identified”, the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant would contend that such a finding relating to theory of disparagement is clearly misconceived. The appellant is not a competitor nor a spokesperson of aavin milk. He is a Minister and he has an obligation to disseminate information to the general public. The statements that were made by him to promote aavin milk product is therefore unsustainable especially when manufacturers of aavin are not a party to the suit. However, the learned single Judge observed that tort of disparagement could apply even in cases where defendant is not a party, for which no precedent has been quoted.

15. The learned counsel for the appellant/defendant further contended that the issue involved in this case is as to the applicability of law on libel and not of disparagement which would apply if the action complained of were made by a competitor. A general statement made with generic term against a class of person do not give rise to a cause of action to any member of the class to file a suit for damages. In this context, the learned counsel relied on the decision in Knuffer vs. London Express Newspapers Limited (1943 King's Bench Decision 80) wherein it was held as follows:-

“Where defamatory words are written or spoken of a class of persons it is not open to a member of that class to say that they were written at him, unless the class is so small or so ascertainable that what is said of the class is necessarily said of every member of it, or unless the words, although they purport to refer to a class, yet in the circumstances of the particular case in fact refer to an individual.

.....On July 3, 1941, the Daily Express published in London an article from their correspondent in Ankara entitled “Hitler's Littlest Kaiser”. Its object was to expose and condemn persons and organisations in countries at war with Germany who were supposed to favour the enemy. It is not without importances to notice that, although reference is made to mainly countries in Europe and also to the United States, from first to last no mention is made of Great Britain. Among the organisations thus denounced is one referred to as an emigre group called “Mlado Russ” or “Young Russia”, which is said to be aminute group established in France and the United States. The Plaintiff is a member of this party.

The question for this court is whether the words of which complaint is made are capable of supporting an innuendo that they refer to the plaintiff. So far as the facts proved in evidence are concerned, it seems that this party orginated in Paris under the auspices of a Mr. Kasem Beg. According to the plaintiff, so far from its being a minute body, it has an exceedingly large membership on the continent and also, I gather, some adherants in America. Its constitution is said to be a hierarchical structure which sounds imposing, but apparently means no more than that there are various persons employed by the party who occupy positions of varying responsibility and that on all matters of policy Mr. Kasem Beg had the last word, or to use a colloquial expression, “which he says goes”

....I have dealt with these facts at some length because it is obvious that the plaintiff's real motive in bringing this action is to advertise and eulogize his organisation which in this country has never emerged from obscurity. He was quite frank about it He was asked in cross-examination whether he was drawing a distinction between himself in his private capacity and as being bound up with the Young Russian Party. His answer was “In this matter I am concerned only with the Young Russian Party”. In the letter which he wrote to the defendants as soon as the article appeared it is only at the end that he suggests that reflections on the party are reflections on him personally. The theme of the letter is a vindication of Young Russia. When the defendants offered to publish a statement that the article could have no possible relevance to him as the representative of the society in Great Britain, and that they unhesigly accepted his statement that he had no pro-German sympathies, he refused to accept this without a withdrawal of all suggestions against “Young Russia”. This attitude of the plaintiff really summarizes the question which has to be determined in the appeal....

In my opinion, the real question is whether the words are capable of supporting the innuendo that they were written of and concerning the plaintiff. As the court has to determine whether the words are capable of bearing a defamatory meaning, so it has also to decide whether they are capable of being defamatory of the plaintiff. Now, in one sense it is true that an attack on a society must be an attack on its members, but it is not the law that for that reason every member has a cause action. There must be something to show that it is the plaintiff at whom the article is aimed. To some extent, no doubt, the question of the numbers or size of the body criticized is of great importance. To accuse a jury or a body of trustees of corruption would necessarily impute corruption to all, but to say that a political party is corrupt cannot mean that every member of that party is accused of corruption, even though the minds of voters in a constituency might, to use Mr. Holmes' expression, turn to their member who happened to belong to that party. Were it said that the directors of the X railway company sweated their servants, perhaps all the directors could sue to vindicate themselves as employer’s but were it said that X railway company were sweaters, it is absurd to suppose that every stockholder could sue...."

16. By pointing out the above decision, the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant would contend that in that case, the Court of Appeal had recognised the right of a person to call the attention of the public to certain activities, which he honestly believes to be opposed to public interest. In the present case also, the statements made by the defendant, as a Minister of the Legislative Assembly, were in public interest.

17. According to the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant, the Courts in our country have also followed the aforesaid principles laid down in the Kings Bench decision which could be evident from the decision rendered in Government Advocate vs. Gopa Babu Das reported in AIR 1922 Patna Page No.101 wherein a newspaper had published certain libellous matters against two Constables of a Police Station. No Constable in particular was named in that publication. However, it was alleged that the entire publication was absolutely false. The two Constables have initiated an action for defamation against the printer and publisher of the newspaper. In that context, Dawson Miller, C.J., observed as under:-

"However reprehensible and morally unjustifiable the words complained of may be they must to be, actionable, contain an imputation concerning some particular person or persons whose identity can be established. An imputation against an association or collection of persons jointly may also amount to defamation within the meaning of the section but at the same time, it must be an imputation capable of being brought home to a particular individual or collection of individuals as such. The article in question is not directed against the constables of the Begunia Thana collectively so that they, as a body, could assert that each and all of them had been libelled. Nor can it be said that two ascertained individuals have been the object of the attack. It is unnecessary that the person whose conduct is called in question should be described by name. It is sufficient if on the evidence it can be shown that the imputation was directed towards a particular person or persons who can be identified."

18. The learned counsel for the appellant/defendant also relied on the decision of the Patna High Court rendered in (Asha Parekh and others vs. The State of Bihar and others) reported in 1977 Criminal Law Journal 21. In the said case, prosecution was launched against a leading actress on the ground that Advocates, as a class, had been defamed in the film Nandan. Quashing the prosecution as an abuse of process of law, the Patna High Court held as follows:-

"6. The first contention urged on behalf of the petitioners is that in the absence of any averment in the complaint that the petitioners intended to harm the reputation of lawyers as a class or that they knew or had reason to believe that such imputation would harm the reputation of lawyers as a whole, they cannot be held to be guilty under Sections 500 and 108 of the Code. The second contention seriously contended on behalf of the petitioners was that in order to constitute the offence of defamation the defamatory publication must refer to some definite person or a determinate class. It was contended that the lawyers as a class were too indeterminate a body to be the subject matter of defamation. The imputation cannot have any relevance to the complainants in particular.

11. The case of Eastwood v. Holmes 1 F&F 347 : 175 ER 758 completely supports my proposition that lawyers as a class are not capable of being defamed in an action for defamation by innuendo where in the report of the proceedings of the British Archaeological Association it was mentioned in regard to certain antiquities that

....these are figures reported to have been obtained from the Thames, and called 'Pilgrims' signs. They are being offered not only in London, but throughout the Country, and anti queries should be on their guard in the purchase of them. Mr. C. had inspected 800 of them, but the aggregate is stated to be not less than 2000. The whole are proved to be of recent fabrication. They appear to have been made in chalk moulds.. They have been stamped in a strong acid and smeared over with Thames mud.

It was held that action could not be maintained. The observation of Willes, J., quoted below, on this aspect of the law it; interesting and at the same time illuminating;

Willes, J.: The action cannot be maintained. Assuming the article to be libellous, it is not a libel on the plaintiff, it only reflects on a class of persons dealing in such objects, and it is immaterial. In this view whether they are genuine or not. If a man wrote that all lawyers were thieves, no particular lawyer could sue him, unless there is something to point to the particular individual which there is not here. There is nothing to show that the article was inserted with any special reference to the plaintiff."

The case referred to above, obviously lend support to the submission of the learned counsel for the petitioner and, therefore, it will be useless to multiply decisions except to refer to one decision of the Supreme Court. The law on the subject was considered by the Supreme Court in G. Narasimhan vs. T.V. Chokkappa 1973 Crl.LJ 52 in which the newspaper "Hindu" was prosecuted for having wrongly published a resolution passed at a Conference by some members of the Dravida Kazhagam. The President of the reception committee of the said Conference had complained that it was defamatory of the Conference and, therefore, the newspaper was liable to be prosecuted and punished. An application by the Editor of the "Hindu" for quashing the prosecution under Section 561-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure having failed before the High Court, the matter was agitated before the Supreme Court where it was contended that the Conference was an undefined and an amorphous body, therefore, not capable of being defined and so the complainant was incompetent to lodge the complaint. While allowing the application, the Supreme Court observed as follows, which may be quoted with profit;

"That being so the High Court completely missed the real issue viz., whether the conference was a determinate and an identifiable body so that the defamatory words used in relation to the resolution passed by it would be defamation of the individuals who composed it, and the respondent, as one such individual and chairman of the reception committee could maintain a complaint under Section 500 of the Penal Code. Whether the Dravida Kazhagam was an identifiable group or not was beside the point, for, what has to be decided was whether the conference which passed the resolution in question and which we said to have been distorted was such a determinate body, like the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak in Tak Chand's case or the body of public prosecutors in Sahib Singh Mehras case as to make defamation with respect to it a cause of complaint by its individual members. In our view the High Court misdirected itself by missing the real and true issue arising in the applications before it and deciding an issue, which did not arise from those publications. The judgment of the High Court, based on an erroneous issue, therefore, cannot be sustained.

The class of Advocates in general is a much more amorphous and indeterminate body than the conference alluded to in the Supreme Court case referred to above. The law in respect of defamation of a class of persons as enunciated by Salmond is as follows:-

In every case where the plaintiff is not named the test whether the words used refer to him is the question whether the words are such as would reasonably lead persons acquainted with the plaintiff to believe that he was the person referred to it. If the words can be regarded as capable of referring to the plaintiff, the jury still have to decide the question of fact. Do they lead reasonable people, who know him, to the conclusion that they refer to him? (Knupffer vs. London Express Newspaper (1944) AC 116". "The reason why a libel published of a large or indeterminate number of persons described by some general name generally fail to be actionable in the defamatory statements, for the habit of making unfounded generalisations is ingrained in ill educated or vulgar minds or the words are occasionally intended to be facetious exaggeration"(Ibid at 122, per Lord Akin). Thus, no action would lie at the suit of any one for saying that all mankind is vicious and depraved, or even for alleging that all clergymen are hyprocrites or all lawyers dishonest (Eastwood vs. Holmes (1858) 1 F&F 347). For chanrges so general in their nature are merely vulgar generalisation" Vide (Salmond on the law of Torts, Fifteenth edition, 187). In Halsbury's Laws of England (3rd Edn. Edited by Viscount Simonds) Vol.24, page 5, paragraph 6 it has been observed that

A class of persons cannot be defamed as a class, nor can an individual be defamed by general reference to the class to which he belongs. A similar view has been taken by Gatley in "Libel and Slander" where it has been observed that "where the words complained of reflect on a body or class of persons generally, such as lawyers, clergymen, publicans or the like, no particular member of the body or class can maintain an action."

13. On a review of the cases and the treaties on the subject referred to above, I have no manner of doubt that Advocates as a class are incapable of being defamed. If any publication can be shown to refer specifically to particular individuals then alone an action for defamation may lie, not otherwise. I am also of the view that the portrayal of the lawyer in the impugned film does not have any relevance to lawyers as a class. The dialogues and visible representations point out only to Advocated who indulge in such practices. Surely, the impugned portions of the film cannot lead any reasonable person to form the conclusion that Advocates are pests and a despicable bunch. The submissions of learned counsel for the petitioners have substantial force and must succeed."

19. By placing reliance on the above said decision, the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant would contend that the statements made by the defendant are generic and not specific about the plaintiffs. Therefore, the present action is not maintainable at the instance of the plaintiffs, unless it is shown that the defendant had whimsically targeted the plaintiffs with a malafide intention to bring down their reputation.

20. As regards the prima facie case for grant of interim injunction, the learned counsel appearing for the appellant/defendant would contend that the plaintiffs have not made out a case for interim injunction to restrain the appellant/ defendant from discharging his functions as a Minister of the State. Even assuming that some statements have been made by the appellant/defendant with an intention to bring down the reputation of the plaintiffs, it has to be gone into only during the course of trial and it cannot be adjudicated while granting interim injunction. Even the learned single Judge has rendered a finding that it would be advisable for the parties to let in oral and documentary evidence to justify their rival stand. While so, the learned Judge ought not to have granted interim injunction restraining the appellant/ defendant from discharging his duties as a Minister of the State. To lend support to this submission, the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant placed reliance on the decision rendered by the Court of Appeal in Bonnard vs. Perryman, 1892 2 Ch 269 wherein it was held as follows:-

"But it is obvious that the subject matter of an action for defamation is so special as to require exceptional caution in exercising the jurisdiction to interfere by injunction before the trial of an action, to prevent an anticipated wrong. The right of free speech is one which it is for the public interest that individuals should possess, and, indeed, that they should exercise without impediment, so long as no wrongful act is done, and unless an alleged libel is untrue, there is no wrong committed; but, on the contrary, often a very wholesome act is performed in the publication and repetition of an alleged libel. Until it is clear that an alleged libel is untrue, it is not clear that any right at all has been infringed; and the importance of leaving free speech unfettered is a strong reason in cases of libel for dealing most cautiously and warily with the granting of interim injunction."

21. According to the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant, the grant of an interim injunction had resulted in serious hardship and prejudice to the appellant/defendant, for, he was gagged from making any statement even before he was called upon to disprove the averments in the plaint. The learned single Judge ought to have left the parties to prove their respective case during the course of trial, instead of restraining the appellant/ defendant to make any statement without any substance, meaning thereby, the learned single Judge has concluded that the statements so far made by the appellant/defendant are without any substance or unsubstantiated. Whether the statements made by the appellant/defendant are correct or without any materials to support the same has to be gone into only at the time of trial. Further, the learned single Judge, referring to the statements made by the Advocate for the plaintiff has concluded that an injunction, in such circumstance, is warranted. On the other hand, the grant of an injunction or it's refusal must be only on the basis of the materials placed by the respective parties, which was not considered by the learned single Judge. The learned counsel for the appellant/defendant therefore prayed for setting aside the order, which is impugned in this appeal and thereby allow the appeal.

22. Countering the submissions of the learned counsel for the appellant/ defendant, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs/respondents would contend that the statements made by the defendant against private dairies in general would only refer to the plaintiffs as a whole. The words 'private dairies' used by the defendant would mean and include the plaintiffs who are carrying on dairy operations. Referring to the statements made by the defendant, which were published in various Tamil and English dailies, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would contend that by reason of the word “private dairies” used by the defendant in his statements, it can be construed that those statements were made towards the plaintiffs, who are carrying on private dairy operations for years together and had gained reputation and goodwill in the said business. The defendant in his statement had stated that the branded milk sachets manufactured by private industries were tested and found to contain harmful chemicals or were sub-standard. Further reference was made to the effect that more than 50% of such private players were indulging in adulteration and almost all of them supply only substandard milk. Reference was also made in the statement that around 70 private dairies in Tamil Nadu have indulged in adulteration. Therefore, according to the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs, the class of persons defined by the defendant is clearly identifiable and no prudent man could be made to believe that those statements are not intended against the plaintiffs who are carrying dairy operations. This is more so that the plaintiffs are leading private players in the field of milk and milk products and contribute to 50% of sales in the State. In this context, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs placed reliance on the decision in 1994 (1) All England Report 495 wherein it was held that it is no excuse to merely say that no one was named in the statement and therefore, an action by the aggrieved person or identifiable class or every member of that class could maintain an action. Also referring to the decision rendered by the Honourable Supreme Court in G.Narasimhan's case 1972 (2) SCC 680, the learned Senior counsel would contend that if the class or body which was defamed was a definite and identifiable body, a Civil action for libel would lie. Therefore, reference made to G.Narasimhan's case by the counsel for the appellant/defendant cannot be made applicable to the facts of this case.

23. The learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would place reliance on the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court in the case of Sahib Singh Mehra vs. State of Uttar Pradesh reported in AIR 1965 SC 1451. In that decision an offending article was published by the Editor and Publisher of a newspaper “Kaliyug” on 12.09.1960 by referring them as “a thief reprimanded the Kotwal, a Police Officer.” The article made reference to alleged illicit bribe money received from the plaintiffs and defendants in a case and the manner in which it was channelised and routed to the Public prosecutor and Assistant Public Prosecutor. The Public Prosecutor and Assistant Public Prosecutors, after obtaining sanction from the Government have filed the Private complaint contending that the news report had undermined and defamed the Public Prosecutor and Assistant Public Prosecutors in the District of Aligarh. The learned Sessions Judge convicted the Editor and Publisher of the newspaper holding that the statements in the article were defamatory and sentenced the appellant to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six months with fine of Rs.200/-. His appeal was dismissed by the High Court. On further appeal, the Honourable Supreme Court refused to even reduce the period of sentence by holding that the statements made by the Editor and Publisher is per se defamatory and it will have the effect of undermining the Pubic Prosecutor and Assistant Public Prosecutors in the Court of Aligarh. Even the defence raised by the Editor and Publisher that the statement was not named against a specific individual and it referred to a group of persons, was rejected. The further defence that such an article was published for public good and the appellant/Editor was protected under Exceptions 3 and 9 of Section 499 of IPC was also rejected. The relevant paragraph from the said judgment is quoted below as follows:-

“11. The impugned remarks are per se defamatory of the group of persons referred to. It is no defence – and it has not been urged as defence that the remarks were true. The defence in the courts below was that they were for public good and the appellant was protected under Exceptions 3 and 9 of Section 499 of IPC. The tenor of the article does not indicate that the purpose of the appellant in publishing these remarks was “public good”. According to the article, the appellant would have welcomed the opportunity that would be offered by the case contemplated against him by R.K. Sharma, tomake public the impugned matters. His remarks therefore could have the tendency to dissuade R.K. Sharma from instituting the proceedings for fear of giving greater currency to untrue allegations which be not favourable to him or to the prosecuting staff at Aligarh or in the State, and by themselves could not render any public good. No enquiry could have been started by the Government on such a publication implying the passing of money from the pockets of certain set of people to the pockets of the prosecuting staff. The impugned remarks could certainly lead the readers of the article to believe or suspect that the prosecuting staff is corrupt in the discharge of its duties as Public Prosecutors, and are thus bound to affect the reputation of the prosecuting staff adversely. Unless proved otherwise, the presumption is that every person has a good reputation. In this case, the Public Prosecutor and Assistant Public Prosecutor had deposed that they are not corrupt, and according to their knowledge, none at Aligarh, is corrupt in the discharge of his duty. There is no evidence to the contrary.”

24. Thus, by relying upon the above decision, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would contend that in the said case, an article was published in Aligarh where the class of persons identified were the Public Prosecutors and Assistant Public Prosecutors. The defence raised was that no one was named. The Supreme Court held that not only the prosecuting staff of Aligarh, as a matter of fact, the prosecuting staff in the entire State of Uttar Pradesh are certainly such an identifiable group or collection of persons who were affected. It was further held that there is nothing indefinite about it. The group consists of all members of the prosecuting staff in the service of the Government of Uttar Pradesh.

25. The learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs also placed reliance on the decision in the case of Wahid Ullah Ansari vs. Emperor reported in AIR 1935 Allahabad 743 wherein the reporter of a daily made certain offensive comments in an article against the girl students studying in Aligarh Intermediate College. In that decision, it was held that though the number may be over 150 girls and the article may not have the intention to imply every girl was guilty, the essence of defamation has to be judged from the inevitable effect on the reader. The relevant paragraph from the said judgment reads as follows:-

“....Here the defamatory article relate to the alleged habitual conduct of the girls of the Intermediate College. Those girls may be over 150 in number and it may not have been the intention of the writer of the articles to imply that every girl in the college was guilty of this conduct. The essence of the offence of defamation, however, is the publication of an imputation with the knowledge that it will harm the reputation of the person defamed, and as these articles do beyond question imply that the girls of the college are habitually guilty of the misbehaviour described in the articles, the inevitable effect on the reader must be to make him believe that it is habitual with the girls of the college to behave in this way. That being so, it seems quite clear that all the girls in the college collectively and each girl individually must suffer in reputation. The difference beween this case and the one before the Patna High Court is obvious. In that case two constables were accused of a particular act, and it did not follow from that all constables suffered in their individual reputation.

The view that has been taken by the courts appears to me to be perfectly correct and there is no reason to interfere with the orders passed. The sentence no doubt is severe, but the offence, as has been pointed out, was an extremely serious one and the applicant when on his trial made no attempt to express his regret or make any acknowledgment of the fact that he had done wrong. The application is therefore dismissed.”

26. The learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs also placed reliance on the decision of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in the case of (Alok Mitra vs. E.Venkatraya Choudary and others) reported in 1981 SCC Online AP 180. In that case, a monthly magazine called “Probe India” published a report during July 1980 under the caption “where the daughters are sold”. The article allegedly reported that daughters of a particular Village in Andhra Pradesh, on attaining puberty, are sold or 'hired out' to rich clients as a matter of routine to be served as sex-toys. As against this article, Edara Venkataraya Chowdary, a resident of Muramanda Village filed a complaint before the First Class Magistrate, Rajahmundry. In that case, the question was whether the defamation alleged is against a well defined class of persons viz., all the parents in the Village of Muramanda and whether the action by one of the Villagers is maintainable. In Para No.22 of the said Judgment, it was held as follows:-

“22. It is thus clear that the father of every girl who has attained puberty in the village suffers in reputation as a result of the defamatory statement. The persons with daughters in Muramanda Village are an identifiable class. Undoubtedly, the publication is highly defamatory and it contains an article which is untold until now and is horrifying. The complainant is a father with a marriageable daughter in the Village. He has stated in the complaint petition that he is facing difficulty in fixing up marriage alliance for his daughter. Pointedly the aspersions also affect the reputation of the complainant's daughter. The complainant is one of the affected persons with daughters in the village affected by the untrue imputation. Therefore, the complaint falls within Explanation 2 to Section 499 IPC and he is an aggrieved person under Section 199 Cr.P.C. It is next contended that on the complainant's own showing he cannot be an aggrieved person and if at all any one is aggrieved, it is only his daughter and therefore, the daughter alone should have filed the complaint. The daughter is under the protection of her father and he has to get her married. I have no manner of doubt that if an imputation of immorality is made against a girl, the reputation of the father is bound to be affected. Therefore, the father is an aggrieved person and has a right to initiate criminal proceedings under Section 199 Cr.P.C. Vide Hardevi vs. Malkani vs. State (8) AIR 1969 All.423 and Biswanath Bubna vs. The King (9) AIR 1949 Cal.667.

23. Therefore, it follows that the contentions of the petitioner are unsound and cannot be upheld.”

27. By placing reliance on the above decisions, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would contend that the statements made by the defendant and which were published in the newspapers would give an impression that all the private dairies are indulging in adulteration in the milk and milk products they manufacture and would show the private dairies in poor light. Therefore, the statements made by the defendant are per se defamatory and it will have the effect of bringing down the reputation and goodwill which the plaintiffs have built all through these years.

28. Next it was contended by the learned Senior counsel appearing for the plaintiffs/respondents that the statements made by the appellant/defendant amounts to generic disparagement and therefore, injunction granted by the learned single Judge against the appellant/ defendant from making such statements is wholly justifiable as it would only prevent further damage to the reputation and goodwill of the plaintiffs and it cannot be called in question. In this context, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would rely on the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court in the case of Hindustan Unilever Limited vs. Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Limited reported in 2017 SCC Online Bombay 2572 wherein it was held that there would be no difference if the particular product or company is not referred to by the trade rival. It is sufficient if there is disparagement of a class of goods to which the affected plaintiffs would belong. Even if a generic disparagement is made to promote commercial prospects of a State run enterprise, so long as the products which are subject to such disparagement compete in the open market along with the goods sold by the State enterprise, the injunction has to follow.

29. By referring to the judgment relied on by the learned counsel for the defendant in the case of Swami Achyuthanand Tirth vs. Union of India (2016) 9 SCC 699, the learned Senior Counsel for the plaintiffs would contend that the guidelines issued in the said judgment have been misconceived. In the said decision, the Honourable Supreme Court directed that the State should take steps to inform the owners of dairies if they adulterate milk and stringent action will have to be taken against such adulterates. Further, such action has to be resorted to only if there is a suspicion that a food may pose risk to health. Even as per the said judgment, it is only the Food Authority and the Commissioner of Food Safety to take appropriate steps to inform the general public about the nature of risk to health in the event of consuming a particular product which is proved to be adulterated. However, by following this decision of the Honourable Supreme Court, no notice has been ever issued to the plaintiffs complaining that they have indulged in adulterated milk or milk product. Even the direction issued by the Honourable Supreme Court to form a State level committee to review the work done to curb the milk adulteration has not been taken up by the defendant. The direction given in para 22 (ix) that the concerned State Department shall set up a website to create awareness about complaint mechanism etc., and maintenance of toll free telephone and online complaint mechanism has not been followed. Rather, the defendant only addressed the Press and Media in the guise of informing the general public about the adulteration and thereby scared them to think that all private dairies are indulging in adulteration. Therefore, such statements had the effect of portraying the private players like the plaintiffs in poor light.

30. As regards the grant of injunction by the learned single Judge, the learned Senior counsel for the plaintiffs would contend that the defendant, by his statement, made alarming claims against private dairies without any material to form even a rudimentary basis for such accusation. The report dated 28.05.2017 filed by the defendant was the one obtained from Madhavaram Milk Products Research Quality Control Laboratory, run by the office of Commissioner of Milk Production and Dairy Development to prove that the samples drawn from a private milk dairy is not in accordance with the norms or standard. At the outset, the said Laboratory does not belong to the category of accredited laboratory under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and the said lab is no longer vested with the powers to test samples drawn from private dairies. As per Section 40 of The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 even any consumer apart from Food Safety Officer can have any product offered for sale to be tested and it is not necessary that the defendant, holding the post of Minister of the State should direct the officials of the Dairy Department to draw samples and subject them to analysis with an non-accredited laboratory. Thus, the statements made by the defendant based on such unsubstantiated reports is per se uncalled for and the defendant cannot be allowed to continue to give such statements. It is in those circumstances, the learned single Judge has rightly granted an order of interim injunction to prevent further damage to the private dairies such as the plaintiffs. The order of injunction is in force from 10.07.2007. In such circumstances, the learned Senior counsel for plaintiffs prayed for dismissal of the appeal. 31. In reply, the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant would contend that personally, none has a right to cripple or prevent the defendant, in his capacity as a Minister, from warning the adulterants of food product or creating awareness among the general public towards adulteration in food substance by unscrupulous operators. What is done in public interest by the defendant cannot be subjected to judicial scrutiny at the instance of the private enterprises. According to the learned counsel for the appellant/ defendant, the statement made by the defendant is not intended towards the plaintiffs, rather, they are generic. The concept of generic disparagement which exists amongst the competitors cannot be applied to the present case where the statements made by the appellant/defendant in his capacity as Minister of the State has been made in good faith. Aavin is a society incorporated under the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Societies Act, 1983. The defendant/appellant is not the spokes person of Aavin and therefore it would be futile to contend that the defendant does not hold an obligation to disseminate information to the general public. The statements made by the defendant are not intended to promote the Aavin milk or milk products. The defendant is a Minister and holding a public office under the State Government, therefore, he is competent to make such statement in good faith. Therefore, the averment that the defendant attempted to promote Aavin and it's products cannot hold good when Aavin was not arrayed as a party to the lis. Aavin's functions and the decisions are taken on its own, which cannot be put against the defendant. However, the learned single Judge, while granting interim injunction, concluded that even the tort of disparagement would apply in cases where the defendant is not a competitor. Therefore, the learned single Judge is not right in restraining the appellant/defendant even before the so-called defamatory statements were adjudged and as to whether those statements cause damage to the plaintiffs. In this context, the learned counsel relied on the decision of the Court of Appeal in Bonnard vs. Perryman mentioned supra to contend that an action for defamation is so special that it require exceptional caution in exercising jurisdiction to interfere by injunction before the trial of an action to prevent an anticipated wrong. When the claim or rival claim made by the parties have to be subjected to trial, the learned single Judge, even before trial, is not right in putting the cart before the horse. This is more so that there is no material to show the extent of monetary loss suffered by the plaintiffs owing to the socalled statement made by the defendant. In the plaint, in para-10, the plaintiffs themselves admit that they have not ascertained the loss in their business. While so, the alleged damage claimed by the plaintiffs is imaginary and in such event, the learned single Judge ought not to have granted an interim injunction. The learned counsel would further contend that this Court in exercise of powers conferred under Clause 15 of the Letters patent can correct the errors committed by the learned single Judge in granting an interim injunction as could be evident from the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court in the case of Buddula Lakshmaiah vs. Sri Anjaneya Swami Temple reported in (1996) 3 Supreme Court Cases page No.52 wherein it was held as follows:-

“2. ....A letters patent appeal as permitted under the Letters Patent, is normally an intra-court appeal, whereunder the Letters Patent Bench, sitting as a Court of appeal Correction, corrects its own orders in exercise of the same jurisdiction as was vested in the single Bench. Such is not an appeal against an order of a subordinate court. In such appellate jurisdiction the High Court exercises the powers of a Court of Error. So understood, the appellate power under the Letters Patent is quite distinct, in contrast to what is ordinarily understood to procedural language. That apart, the construction of the aforementioned two documents involved, in the very nature of their import, a mixed question of law and fact well within the powers of the Letters Patent Bench to decide. The Bench was not powerless in that regard.”

32. As regards the balance of convenience for grant of interim injunction, the learned counsel for the defendant would contend that it is not known whom the defendant had meant in the press statements. If one knows who the defendant meant in his statement, it must be shown that the defendant had made his statement against a specific class of persons. It can either be no one or someone and not both. In such a situation, the parties must be directed to establish their respective cases only during trial without pre-determining the issue and granting interim injunction. Therefore, the learned counsel for the defendant would contend that grant of interim injunction before examining the nature of statements and intention in making such statement is not warranted and he prayed for allowing the appeal.

33. We have heard the learned counsel for both sides at length and given our thoughtful consideration. Before dwelling into the rival submissions, we make it clear that we are conscious of the fact that in this appeal, we are dealing only with the correctness or otherwise of the order passed by the learned single Judge granting an order of interim injunction restraining the appellant/defendant from making any statement to the press or media. Therefore, the findings, if any, which we render in this appeal, shall not be taken as the one which are required for determining the issues in the suit and the suit has to be tried uninfluenced by any of the observations we make in this appeal.

34. The suit was filed by the plaintiffs for damages against the defendant. The suit was mainly filed on the ground that the statements made by the defendant had virtually affected the plaintiffs, as a class of persons and as such they are entitled to maintain an action for defamation against the defendant. According to the plaintiffs, if the defendant is allowed to make such scandalous and scurrilous statements that would have the effect of affecting their business and/or reputation and goodwill which they have so far built, it would cause serious loss and hardship to them and therefore, the defendant has to be gagged from making any further statement towards the plaintiffs.

35. The application for interim injunction was opposed by the defendant by contending that if an order of interim injunction is granted, it would have a bearing on his freedom of speech and expression. Further, it was contended that the statements made by him are generic and not specific. The statements are not intended against a particular class of persons but they were made to create awareness among the general public to be cautious in the matter of consumption of food or food products which are free from any adulteration. While so, the defendant would defend that his statements cannot be regarded as the one which were made against any particular individual, much less the plaintiffs, rather, they were made only against those who indulge in adulteration in milk or milk products.

36. The defendant would contend that as a Citizen of this Country, he has the right to freely express his opinion without fear or panic and it cannot be curbed. No doubt, Article 19 (1) (g) of Constitution of India recognise fundamental speech and expression as one of the facets of basic freedom, which of course, is subject to a reasonable restriction. The essence of free speech is the ability to think and speak frankly and to ensemble information from others through publications and public discourse without fear of retribution, restriction or repression. It is through free speech people can be enlightened about the policies of the government and the basic right which a citizen can assert. It is one of the rights to express one's own opinion freely by words of mouth, writing, printing pictures or by any other acceptable mode. Thus, right of a citizen to express freely and frankly is widely accepted as the essence of free society and it must be safeguarded at all times. The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum. Liberty to express opinions and ideas without fear of punishment lays significant role in the development of society and it is regarded as one of the most fundamental liberties guaranteed to a citizen. In the decision of the Honourable Supreme Court in Ramesh Thappar vs. State of Madras reported in AIR 1950 SC 124, the Honourable Supreme Court held that freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to propagate ideas which is ensured by freedom of circulation of a publication, as publication is of little value without circulation. At the same time, such freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to a citizen must not go unchecked and it is subject to reasonable restriction, meaning thereby that such freedom should not be used for destruction of the development of the society and it's sovereignty. A person who exceeds or abuses such freedom of speech and expression for his personal gain with motive towards a particular class of citizen cannot be spared and he will be prosecuted for defamation and incitement. It is with this background, let us examine as to whether the statements made by the defendant are per se defamatory and that he should be restrained from making any such statement.

37. The appellant/defendant in one of his statements given to the press and which was published on 26.05.2017 is said to have represented that "I am not saying milk from all private companies are bad. There are some private companies which sell good quality milk and public can buy it. There are some who are using chemicals in milk.". The words 'all' and 'some' used by the defendant in his statement would evidently be regarded as a generic statement without pointing his finger towards a particular class or sect of private dairies. The defendant further asserted that once the reports from the lab are collected, he, as a Minister of the State, would take necessary action against the private players. In one of his statements, the defendant had stated that the samples drawn from a private milk dairy was subjected to analysis with Madhavaram Milk Depot and the test report confirms that Hydrogen Peroxide, bleaching powder and caustic soda were mixed whereby the private players, for the purpose of earning money, are playing with the lives of the consumers. The defendant also stated that barring a very few, most private dairies are mixing chemicals such as 'Formaldehyde' as confirmed by Laboratories at Guindy and Cehtral Lab report from mysore was expected in 25 days. Further, in another statement made by the defendant, which was published 30.05.2017 in Deccan Chronicle English daily, the defendant was quoted as saying that more than 50 per cent of the private milk suppliers were mixing chemicals and action will be taken against them. Thus, it is evident that the statements made by the appellant are not aimed at any private individual, much less the plaintiffs, rather, it was a generic statement intended to warn the general public against adulterants who indulge in adulteration in manufacture and sale of milk and milk products. Even assuming that such generic statements made by the appellant had caused disparagement to the business of the plaintiffs, it has to be stated that generic disparagement applies amongst competitors in the same line of business/product. In this case, the defendant/appellant is not a competitor and he represents the public at large as a Minister of the Legislative Assembly. At the same time, we make it clear that if it is proved that the statements so made by the defendant are with an oblique intention to bring down the reputation and goodwill of the plaintiffs, then the plaintiffs can succeed in the suit. However, even before examining the correctness or motive with which such statements were made, during the trial, in our opinion, the defendant cannot be gagged with an order of interim injunction and thereby clipping his right to make statements as a Minister of the Legislative Assembly or to prevent him from discharging his duties attached to his post at a Minister of the State.

38. The plaintiffs have mainly contended that the defendant had made unsubstantiated statements without any supporting material and therefore, he should not be allowed to make any such statement till the disposal of the suit. According to the plaintiffs, the defendant is only armed with some lab reports obtained from unrecognised laboratories which cannot be regarded as a fool proof material to conclude that the private dairies have indulged in adulteration. Thus, it is seriously contended by the plaintiffs that the statements made by the defendant is in effect an arm-twisting attempt on the part of the defendant, intended as a tool to cause threat to the lawful and ethical business carried on by the plaintiffs. It is also contended that there is no single document filed by the defendant to justify his statement that the plaintiffs have, in fact, indulged in adulteration. The plaintiffs also relied on the notification dated 10 th January 2017 issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, annexed in page No.105 of the typed set of papers, notifying the referral food laboratories and the States to which it would serve as a referral institution. In Serial No.2 of the said notification, it was indicated that The Director, Food Safety and Analytical Quality Central Laboratory, Mysore will be the referral institution for the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telengana, Puducherry and Lakshadeep. By pointing out to the ab

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ove notification dated 10.01.2017, the plaintiffs would contend that a report obtained from Laboratory at Mysore, which is the accredited laboratory notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, alone would be considered as a fool proof report for adulteration but in the present case, no such report has been filed by the defendant to justify his statement towards the private dairies. 39. On the other hand, it is the contention of the defendant that they have filed voluminous documents along with the typed set of papers before the learned single Judge which are in the nature of lab reports. The defendant placed reliance on a test report dated 28.05.2017, enclosed in page No.44 of the typed set filed by him, issued by the MMPRs Quality Control Laboratory, Chennai (approved by the Government of India) to drive home the point that the sample taken from the first plaintiff's unit is found to be in conformity to the standards prescribed for full scream milk under Reg.1.2.6 of Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, but found to be adulterated. The defendant also filed a copy of Analysis Report issued by CSIR, Mysuru on 12.06.2017 (enclosed in page No.65 of the typed set). Similarly, an analysis report issued by Referral Food Laboratory, Pune dated 16.06.2017 was also enclosed in page No.70. A test report issued by Chennai Mettex Lab Private Limited dated 16.06.2017 was also enclosed in page No.79 of the typed set of papers. That apart, an Analysis Report issued by Referral Food Laboratory, Ghaiabad dated 26.07.2017 was also enclosed to justify his stand. That apart, the defendant also invited the attention of this Court to the cases filed against the plaintiffs earlier to contend that the plaintiffs are not free from any blameworthy conduct in their business activities. These reports were relied on by the defendant to mainly contend that the statements he made cannot be regarded as the one without any material, rather, he is armed with sufficient materials to show that the plaintiffs had in fact, indulged in adulteration of milk or milk products. 40. At the outset, we are not called upon to decide as to whether the reports produced by the defendant were obtained from an accredited laboratory or whether such reports can be relied to show that the plaintiffs have in fact indulged in adulteration. We are also not called upon to examine as to whether the lab reports have emanated after following the procedures contemplated under the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Rules made thereon. These aspects are beyond the scope of the present appeal, which is focussed only as to the correctness or otherwise of the order of interim injunction passed by the learned single Judge restraining the defendant from making any statement. The learned single Judge has pointed out that the defendant had in fact made some statement without any materials. However, the defendant would contend that he is armed with several lab reports to prove that the plaintiffs cannot contend that they did not indulge in adulteration of milk or milk products. In such view of the matter, we are of the view that the defendant has filed some documentary evidence, in the form of lab report or analysis report to show that the plaintiffs are guilty of adulteration. Of course, the veracity or authenticity of such document cannot be gone into by this Court in this appeal to conclude that the plaintiffs have indulged in adulteration. It is a matter for trial and only during the course of trial, such claim of the plaintiffs and defendant could be considered. Suffice it to state that there are some materials produced by the defendant to disprove the claim of the plaintiffs that they never indulged in any adulteration and consequently, it cannot be said that the defendant has made the so-called statement without any supporting materials. In such view of the matter, we hold that the defendant has attempted to disprove the claim of the plaintiffs for damages in the form of lab report of analysis report and they can be examined only during the course of trial in the suit. 41. Even though we are refraining ourselves from going into the correctness or otherwise of the statements made by the defendant, in his capacity as a Minister of the Legislative Assembly, we are not oblivious of the fact that the test of the defamatory nature of a statement is its tendency to excite against the plaintiffs the adverse opinions or feelings of other persons. Defamation can be regarded as an attack upon the moral character of the plaintiffs, attributing to them any form of disgraceful conduct such as untruthfulness, ingratitude or dishonest means in their profession. A statement may be defamatory if it tends to bring the plaintiffs into ridicule or contempt even though there is no suggestion of any form of misconduct. At the same time, a statement is not defamatory merely because it excites hatred, contempt, ridicule or other adverse feelings in some particular class of the community, whose standard of opinion is such that the law cannot approve of it. Words can be regarded as defamatory only if they impute conduct of the plaintiffs which would tend to bring down their reputation in the eyes of a considerable and respectable class of community though not in the eyes of the community as a whole. Furthermore, it must be shown that the defendant had the intention to make defamatory statement towards the plaintiffs and it had the tendency of making the plaintiffs to reasonably think that those statements are aimed at them. The concept of defamation is that a statement has been made against a specific or determinate body or group, without which an action for a libel will not lie. In the above circumstances, it would be worthwhile to rely upon the decision reported in (Asha Parekh and others vs. The State of Bihar and others) reported in 1977 Criminal Law Journal 21 mentioned supra. We once again quote the relevant passage therefrom at the risk of repetition. A class of persons cannot be defamed as a class, nor can an individual be defamed by general reference to the class to which he belongs. A similar view has been taken by Gatley in "Libel and Slander" where it has been observed that "where the words complained of reflect on a body or class of persons generally, such as lawyers, clergymen, publicans or the like, no particular member of the body or class can maintain an action." 42. Applying the above principles to this case, we are of the view that the statements made by the defendant towards the private dairies in general will not qualify the plaintiffs to complain that such statement were intended to bring their reputation down and therefore, the defendant must be gagged from making any such statement in future. The defendant, being a member of the Legislative Assembly cannot be clipped of his duties to enlighten the general public towards consumption of healthy and standardised milk and to caution them to wean away from those who indulge in adulteration. Thus, absolutely, we do not find any negative campaigning by the defendant through his statements made. At the same time, we make it clear that if there is any material to show that the statements made by the defendant are only intended against the plaintiffs, who form a part of class of persons or the statements so made specifically determine the plaintiff, it has to be gone into only at the time of trial. 43. The plaintiffs would harp upon by stating that by reason of the statements made by the defendant, their business have come down and that they suffered loss. At the same time, as rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the appellant/defendant, even in the plaint, the plaintiffs admitted that they have not furnished any statement indicating the actual and exact loss suffered by them in their business. However, the plaintiffs would contend that any further statement, if made by the defendant, would virtually affect their business. Thus, anticipating that the plaintiffs may suffer a loss in their business, the plaintiffs have sought to gag the defendant. There is no imminent loss occasioned by the plaintiffs and they themselves have admitted that they have not come forward with any specific statement with respect to the loss of business suffered by them. At the risk of repetition, we must hold that the statements made by the defendant cannot be said to be the one pointed towards the plaintiffs, either directly or indirectly. The statements were made against private dairy players, as a whole, to which class the plaintiffs also form. In such an event, measuring the actual loss suffered by the plaintiffs is also impossible. Even otherwise, the plaintiffs have filed the suit for damages and if they succeed in the suit, they can recover the loss that had occasioned to them in their business. In a libel action, it must be shown that the imputation has in fact been made against a particular person and that such particular individual is capable of being identified. In such an action, an order of injunction can be granted at the interlocutory stage only if it is prima facie established that the defamatory statements are made against a particular person, who can very well be identifiable and that the statements are only aimed and targeted against the said particular person. However, if a generic statement has been made, not against any particular individual but against a class of person or persons, who are to be identified or determined, an injunction has to be refused leaving the parties to prove the veracity or correctness of those statements at the time of trial in the action for libel. However, even before conclusion of trial, by assuming that the plaintiffs have suffered loss in their business owing to the alleged defamatory statements made against them by the defendant in his capacity as a Minister of the State and when such statements were made with an intention to caution the general public about adulteration, the defendant cannot be restrained from making any such statement. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs have not made out a prima facie case for grant of interim injunction in their favour and the balance of convenience also could not be tilted towards them. Consequently, the order passed by the learned single Judge has to be set aside. 44. For all the above reasoning, we set aside the Order dated 20.10.2017 passed in O.A. No. 673 of 2017 in C.S. No. 529 of 2017. The Original Side Appeal is allowed. No costs.
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