Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court issued an interim order striking down an injunction against a journalist and activist Krishnaraj Rao filed by reputed real estate developer Lodha Group. This was part of the on-going Rs 100 crore defamation case filed against Rao by the developers after he posted a series of articles and videos questioning the quality of one of their projects.
The court has rejected injunctions requested by Lodha group in four of the five statements. The next hearing is slated to take place in June.
While speaking to The Logical Indian, Rao said that he was contacted by Shilpi Tharde, who, along with her husband Amit Jaisingh, owns two flats in the Dioro building of New Cuffe Parade project in Wadala worth Rs 6 crore. “I met Shilpi for the first time in September 2018. This was not the first time I was visiting this project, I had previously seen the flats as a purchaser and had a fair idea of what was wrong with it. It only got confirmed when I did a thorough inspection this time.”
At the same time, Rao drafted an article attaching various photos and videos in support of his allegations of poor quality construction, copy of which he mailed to the Lodha group asking for a rebuttal. “All I got was an auto-generated mail. I have written articles on Lodha groups in 2017 too. I also sent a reminder mail, which again was ignored. Hence in November 2018, we posted the article.”
According to Rao, the first video did not really go viral immediately. However, once it started being circulated on WhatsApp, it got more hits. Soon after, Rao was approached by a media house. They again made a video in one of the flats, which was widely viewed and shocked people beyond their wits. “I had just happened to give an elbow strike. I did not expect that it would create a hole in it. We also showed in this video how part of the wall could so easily be ripped off.”
It soon reached the Lodha group, and then a defamation suit against Rao was filed by the group. “However, we started making more videos after we were served notice. I started getting calls from places asking me to write articles on their similar plights,” said Rao.
Gag orders gagged
Rao represented himself in the hearing. The Lodha group had sought a gag order on Rao.
Of the five points, the first ground on which the Lodha Group sought an injunction was pertaining to Rao’s blog post of January 9 where he alleged that MMRDA had wrongly granted the group an occupational certificate, despite the building not being fit for occupation. The court ruled that this statement was not defamatory and rejected the injunction sought.
The second statement was where Rao alleged fraud in acquisition of plot from MMRDA which was originally intended for infrastructure. Here Rao accepted that he would not repeat this statement until he had a factual basis for it.
Court refused to entertain Lodha Group’s request for an injunction in the third statement where Rao alleged the violation of National Building Code and the Development Control Regulation, saying there was nothing defamatory about it.
Calling it an opinion and a comment, Court also refused the fourth injunction referring to the statement alleging collusion by certain banks in Lodha ‘scam’. The developer had objected to the use of the word scam.
Referring to the fifth statement where Rao alleged that the basement did not have an occupational certificate and neither fire brigade nor MMRDA inspected it. The court said that Rao had justification with ‘contemporaneous documents’ thereby refusing Lodha Groups’ injunction.
“How can you muzzle a consumer? If the customer has been given a bad product, he has the right to say it is a bad product. Something is blatantly wrong. The judge listened to it and gave a satisfactory judgement,” says Rao.
Justice Gautam Patel while hearing the case said, “Calling out someone, with fair comment and justification, is not defamation. To put it differently: to say the emperor has no clothes is not defamation. It never has been.”
The Logical Indian has reached out to Lodha Group for their comments on the case. The article will be updated as we receive their comments.
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