The Bombay High Court on Friday pronounced the order in YouTuber Abhijeet Bhansali's appeal against the judgement of a single bench granting injunction against Bhansali's video which allegedly contained "disparaging remarks" against Parachute coconut oil, owned by Marico Limited.
Division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre heard the appeal challenging Justice SJ Kathawala's 83-page judgement allowing prayers in commercial suit filed by Marico Limited. Court stayed the impugned judgement subject to one condition that
In the said judgement, Justice Kathawalla observed-
"A social media influencer, such as the present Defendant, wields the power to influence the public mind. With power also comes responsibility. I do not believe that a social media influencer can deliver statements with the same impunity available to an ordinary person. Such a person bears a higher burden to ensure there is a degree of truthfulness in his statements."
Chief Justice Nandrajog referred to the transcription of the entire video in question which was done by Justice Kathawalla. Court then reproduced the test performed by Abhijeet Bhansali in the said video in order to prove his point-
"The appellant puts coconut oil claiming to be organic coconut oil in one glass and Parachute coconut oil in another glass and keeps both in a refrigerator and informs the viewer that he has taken them out from the refrigerator after 30 minutes and he presumes that the viewer knows that coconut oil solidifies when cooled. He shows the two glasses to the viewer and highlights that 1 glass, containing organic coconut oil, has completely solidified whereas the other glass containing Parachute oil has 2 to 3 liquid drops which solidify on more cooling. He shows to the viewer that the organic coconut oil has a transparent colour and Parachute coconut oil has a yellowish tint."
Justice Nandrajog emphasised on the importance of the above test with regard to the video and noted that the information to the viewers given by the appellant in the said video is that there are two processes by which coconut oil is extracted, cold pressing and expeller pressing. Both result in pure coconut oil being extracted but they differ in the quality inasmuch as in cold pressing process the temperature does not cross 60 degree celsius but in the expeller pressing process temperature reaches 100 degree celsius.
"From the fact that parachute coconut oil shows a yellow tint and emits very strong odour, he draws the conclusion that parachute coconut oil is unrefined but is inferior in quality to cold pressed coconut oil and this being the result of parachute coconut oil being extracted using the expeller pressed process. The strong coconut fragrance emitted by parachute coconut oil is linked by him to the poor quality of coconuts used or being heated to a very high temperature because both result in a strong coconut odour."
The bench then referred to the words used by the appellant in the video and said-
"Where an objective analysis of words and expressions used is capable of being debated upon, the issue pertaining to defamation would have to charter a route in the context of freedom of speech -vs reputation.
Where a person asserts a matter of fact, he cannot be restrained from expressing himself. Law does not so permit. Because if he fails to make good the fact asserted, damages are awarded."
Finally, Chief Justice Nandrajog pointed out that Marico Limited admitted in its pleadings before the Court that coconut oil marketed by it is not extracted from fresh coconut and it uses Copra i.e. dried coconut and that it extracts the coconut oil using expeller pressed process to extract the oil from the Copra.
"This explains the yellowish tint in the oil marketed by the respondent as also a strong coconut odour. Thus the stand of the respondent accepts the statements of facts made by the appellant in the Video that the claim of the respondent projected by displaying a fresh coconut split into two with water dropping, obviously suggestive of the coconut oil being extracted from fresh coconut, is false."
While Dr.Abhinav Chandrachud appeared on behalf of the appellant in the matter, Senior Advocate Ravi Kadam appeared for Marico Limited.
Referring to Ravi Kadam's submission regarding Parachute's impression on viewers that it is extracted from fresh coconut oil that they were justified in "puffing", Court said-
"Yes it is! But the appellant is also entitled to call off the bluffing. No exception can be raised by the respondent to said."
Finally, staying the impugned order, Court said-
"The learned Single Judge has overlooked the fact that even the respondent had claimed its oil to be virgin coconut oil. Thus, prima facie the 4 instances of falsehood in paragraph 19 of the impugned judgment which we have extracted in paragraph 7 above found by the learned Single Judge are incorrect.
The only error committed by the appellant is to refer to the exemplar oil as organic coconut oil because the reference is to virgin coconut oil, but this is a trivial error and does not mislead the viewer who would clearly understand that the signature tune of the presentation is that Parachute coconut oil is not extracted from fresh coconuts and that the expeller pressed process is used to extract the oil from Copra and due to this reason the oil gets heated and loses its nutrients thereby rendering it money ill spent for external application on the body or for garnishing."
The said stay is subject to the appellant removing certain words from the video