Mahesh Murthy
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Delhi HC vacates interim injunction orders granted to Mahesh Murthy in defamation suit over sexual misconduct allegations

"Prima facie, it cannot be said that the defendants have no case whatsoever or are misusing the freedom of speech to tarnish/defame the plaintiff (Mahesh Murthy)", the Court said.

Meera Emmanuel

In a setback to venture capitalist and Managing Partner of Seedfund, Mahesh Murthy, the Delhi High Court has set aside interim injunction orders passed in 2017 in his defamation suit against entrepreneurs and media houses, for allegations of misappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment on his part (Mahesh Murthy v. Pooja Chauhan and ors).

In an order passed on July 6, a Single Judge Bench of Justice Jayant Nath held,

"The plaintiff (Mahesh Murthy) has failed to make out a prima facie case. In my opinion, balance of convenience is also not in favour of the plaintiff. "
Delhi High Court

The allegedly defamatory publications stemmed from a post on LinkedIn by entrepreneur Pooja Chauhan, who wrote about an inappropriate response given by Murthy on WhatsApp to a Christmas greeting. The post, which included a WhatsApp screenshot, was widely circulated on social media.

Days later, a post was published on the website indianceo.in, wherein Murthy was alleged to have misbehaved during communications on WhatsApp with another entrepreneur, Wamika Iyer.

This led to further publications on Murthy's alleged misbehavour on various media platforms including yourstory.com, Asian Age and the Deccan Chronicle. Another account of sexual misconduct was also published on factordaily.com.

By gag orders passed in 2017, the High Court awarded interim relief in Murthy's favour. However, the orders now stand vacated. The High Court held,

"The facts show that as per defendants No.1, 2, 15 and 16, they have had an unpleasant or perhaps more than unpleasant experience with the plaintiff (Murthy). These facts, the said defendants and other defendants seek to place in public domain. Prima facie, it cannot be said that the said defendants have no case whatsoever or are misusing the freedom of speech to tarnish/defame the plaintiff. The plaintiff has admitted the exchange of messages with defendants No.1 and 2. He admits meeting defendant No.15."

Noting that at this stage, "the plea appears to be a bald plea", the judge said in reference to Murthy's decision to file a single plaint against as many as 18 defendants,

"Prima facie, the acts of alleged publications of defendants No. 1, 2, 15 and 16 appear to be distinct acts and do not prima facie justify joining all the defendants in one suit. Each of these publications appear to arise out of separate alleged incidents... Further, the plaint rambles on narrating various publications, communications, etc. by various defendants/other entities claiming them to be connected to the publications. The plaint also attaches 26 annexures claiming them to be publications or communications indulged in by various defendants/entities."

Summing up, the Court stated that the plaint appears to be "a bit of a hotch potch."

The Court observed that the question of whether any publication should be injuncted rests on the two-pronged test of necessity and proportionality. An injunction order would only be passed if reasonable alternative methods or measures would not prevent real and substantial risk to fairness of the trial, the Court said.

In this case, the judge went on to opine that there appeared to be no reason to conclude that the defendants had acted in a mala fide manner against Murthy. As such, the judge opined that there was no reason to fetter their speech at this stage.

"In my opinion, it would not be reasonable in the facts and circumstances to fetter the narration of alleged facts and comments of defendants No. 1, 2, 15 and 16 and other defendants. The said defendants have a right to exercise their right of freedom of speech. If these incidents and claims of the said defendants are in trial proved to be false, the plaintiff would have a right to claim damages."

Accordingly, the Court disposed of Murthy's suit while vacating the earlier interim orders passed in his favour back in 2017.

Murthy was represented by Advocates Jayant K Mehta, Bani Dikshit and Drishti Harpalani.

The various defendants were represented by Advocates Swati Sukumar, Subhashree, Samrat Nigam, Abhimanyu Walia, and Aayush Agarwala.

Read the Judgment:

Mahesh Murthy v. Pooja Chauhan and ors. - July 6 order.pdf
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