Delhi court rejects plea seeking injunction against publication, sale of book related to self-styled Godman Asaram

A local court in Delhi has rejected a petition that sought interim injunction against publication and sale of a book by HarperCollins related to the conviction of self-styled Godman Asaram Bapu.

Judge Sudhanshu Kaushik of the Patiala House Courts recently rejected the suit filed by the plaintiff in September, 2020 against the book titled "Gunning for the Godman: The True Story Behind Asaram Bapu's Conviction".

The plaintiff sought injunction on the grounds that the book contained defamatory statements against her.

The Judge observed that the Delhi High Court had in an order dated September 22, 2020 passed detailed directions to balance the rights of parties during the pendency of a suit and the same was passed on merits after hearing all the parties dealing with their respective contentions.

The Court said that since the arguments raised before it were similar to the arguments before the High Court, it would be a matter of judicial impropriety to re-examine these aspects at this stage for considering whether an injunction needed to be granted during the pendency of the suit and the same was forbidden in view of the doctrine of merger.

The subject of the book revolved around self-styled Godman Asaram Bapu, who was convicted in 2018 by a special POCSO court for sexually assaulting a minor girl. The plaintiff was the warden of an ashram run by the godman and was also convicted for committing offences punishable under Indian Penal Code.

The woman alleged that the book contained false and defamatory statements, which could  damage her reputation.

She alleged that the book as well as the articles published by the defendants portrayed her in a poor light and had dented her reputation in the eyes of her acquaintances and public at large.

An ex-parte interim injunction was granted in favour of the plaintiff on September 4, 2020. 

HarperCollins challenged the injunction in the Delhi High Court, wherein the interim order was reversed and the company was permitted to publish the book along with a disclaimer.

While discussing the logic behind the doctrine of merger, the Patiala House Court observed that there could not be more than one decree or operative orders governing the same subject matter at a given point of time.

It said the decree or order of the superior court was final and operative as the doctrine of merger applied to verdicts and orders passed by the superior forum. 

As per Judge Kaushik, the lower court judgment merged with the order of superior courts, irrespective of the fact whether the order had been modified, reserved or affirmed by the superior forum.

Taking in view the September 22, 2020 verdict of the Delhi High Court, the court dismissed the application, while clarifying that the observations made in the present order were only for the purpose of adjudicating the prayer whether an injunction should be granted during the pendency of the suit. 

The Court added that the observations would not have any bearing on the outcome of the trial.

Advocates Swathi Sukumar, Ashima Obhan, Akanksha Dua and Naveen Nagarjuna appeared for HarperCollins, while the plaintiff was represented by Advocates Vijay Aggarwal, Naman Joshi and Karan Khanuja.

(Case title: Sanchita Gupta v Scroll Media)