DELHI High Court has dismissed an application moved by Independent News Service Pvt Ltd (INSPL), seeking a restraining order on its channel, India TV’s newsreader, Sucherita Kukreti, from joining a rival channel.
INSPL, which is helmed by senior journalist Rajat Sharma, had also sought recovery of damages amounting to Rs 2,00,10,000 from Kukreti for breach of the job agreement.
Kukreti — who had been working with India TV since 2004 — reportedly resigned on December 13, 2018, whereas the term of her job contract was due to end on November 30, 2019.
On January 25, INSPL management moved Delhi High Court for permanent injunction restraining her from taking up work or allowing her name, image or voice for any other news channel till the expiry of her employment contract.
The petition contested that Kukreti was a prominent face of the India TV, which had invested huge money and resources in building her “image, reputation and goodwill” over the past 14 years.
Since mid-December last year, it further stated, Kukreti had been “feigning excuses” for quitting India TV and was “now intending to be the face and broadcaster of a competing news channel.”
On Twitter, Kukreti had declared to have joined Republic Bharat on January 20. A new entrant to Hindi news market, Republic Bharat, is headed by Arnab Goswami, who is also the managing director of Republic TV, which is one of the most-watched channels in the English news sphere.
— sucherita kukreti (@sucherita_k) January 20, 2019
Since December 1, 2004, the petition stated, she had been entering into successive contracts of three years each, agreeing not to associate with a competing channel during the term of the agreement.
Granting relief to the newsreader, Jusitce Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, however, observed that “the petitioner can’t have proprietary rights” over Kukreti’s professional excellence. “Excellence is a skill which is personal to the defendant”, the court maintained.
Describing the demand for restrain as a violation of “personal liberty”, the court stated: “Ad-interim injunction if granted till November 30, 2019, would amount to killing the goodwill acquired by the defendant in the last 14 years, which can’t be monetarily compensated.”
“Any injunction would also be in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to life with human dignity of a person is a fundamental right of every citizen for pursuit of happiness and excellence,” the court order read, adding that “Liberty aims at freedom not only from arbitrary restraint but also to secure such conditions which are essential for the full development of human personality.”
The ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution — which ensures protection of life and personal liberty — has over the years been expanding, it maintained.
Referring to the Article 51 A of the Constitution, the court again observed that the constitutional provision “constitutes a duty of every citizen to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievements”.
In its petition, INSPL had also offered to continue paying salary to Kukreti till November 30, 2019, expiry of the term of her job agreement, provided she worked with India TV off-screen.
But the court order said that, “Benching a professional for as long as 10 to 11 months can be devastating, capable of inflicting permanent damage affecting mental and physical health and future prospects of a professional. It is more so in the case of a news presenter to whom the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ would also apply.”
The matter has been listed for further hearing on July 11.
Read the Delhi High Court order.