A Bengaluru court has directed former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda to pay Rs 2 crore to a private infrastructure development company as damages in connection with a defamation case against him for statements he made during a television interview in 2011, Bar and Bench reported on Wednesday.

In an interview to Kannada news channel Suvarna 24x7 on June 28, 2011, Gowda had said that Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises was looting public money. The company is involved in the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project.

The Janata Dal (Secular) leader said it was a “loot project” and alleged that the company was grabbing land from the poor. He referred to the company’s promoter and Managing Director Ashok Kheny as a “notorious don” who colluded with certain government officials to indulge in dishonest and corrupt practices, Bar and Bench reported.

The counsel for the company submitted that the allegations made by Gowda were inaccurate and that the firm had no role in deciding the quantity of land required for the project, The Hindu reported. The counsel also contended that the project was approved by the Karnataka government.

The company had demanded Rs 10 crore from Gowda as compensation for damages to its reputation.

Gowda, meanwhile, questioned the maintainability of the plea. He argued that opinion and fair criticism of an individual or organisation related to a public activity cannot be restrained as that would violate the right of freedom of speech and expression.

The court, however, said that Gowda’s comments on the project appeared to be incorrect as it had received approval from the Karnataka High Court and was upheld by the Supreme Court. The Bengaluru court also noted that Gowda provided no evidence to support his allegations against the project.

“The project undertaken by the plaintiff company is a massive project – which is in the larger interest of the state of Karnataka,” the court said in its order. “Hence, if defamatory statements like the present one are allowed to be made in future, definitely implementation of such a massive project like the present one which is undertaken in the larger public interest of the State of Karnataka is going to be delayed.”

The order also restrained Gowda from making defamatory statements against the company in future.