A Bengaluru court has asked former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda to pay 2 crore in damages to Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise Limited (NICE) in connection with a defamation case against him for statements he made in a television interview in 2011.
The company is building the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project, a mega integrated infrastructure project and one of the largest Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) projects in India.
The company has contended that Mr Gowda, during the interview to a Kannada channel, levelled unnecessary and slanderous allegations against the company and its promoter and Managing Director Ashok Kheny.
The company said that Mr Gowda accused the company of looting public money and also said that the BOOT project is actually a “loot project”. The Janata Dal (Secular) leader also referred to NICE and Mr Kheny as “land mafia”, the company told the court.
It sought Rs 10 crore in damages and a permanent injunction against Mr Gowda from making defamatory comments against the company.
Mr Gowda’s legal team cited the fundamental right of freedom of speech granted by the Constitution and argued that any opinion and fair criticism of any individual or organisation in its act concerning a public activity or an activity in which members of public have a vital concern cannot be restrained.
The court, however, asked Mr Gowda to pay damages and also restrained him from making any such statement against the company in the future.
“The defendant is directed to pay damages of Rs.2,00,00,000/- to the plaintiff Company for the loss of reputation of the plaintiff Company on account of the defamatory comments made by the defendant in the interview telecasted in the ‘Suvarna 24/7’ Kannada news channel dated 28.6.2011,” the court said in its order.
“The defendant is permanently restrained from making any defamatory statements against the plaintiff Company in any media, news channel, T.V. channel or in any other means of mass communication in future,” it added.
The court order is the latest chapter in the prolonged standoff between the former Prime Minister and NICE.
The agreement for the infrastructure corridor project was signed in 1995 when Mr Gowda was Karnataka Chief Minister. The consortium that was to build the project later passed on its rights to NICE. Since 2004, Mr Gowda has been alleging that the infrastructure firm has illegally acquired land in excess of what had been agreed upon.