In yet another major victory for the top news portal “The Wire“, which republished an article by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and three other journalists from the “Economic Political Weekly” (EPW), “Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group“, Principal Senior Civil Judge Jaiminkumar R Pandit, Bhuj, Kutch, has “rejected” the defamation suit against the publishers and authors of the article, even as directing them to remove a sentence and a word from it.
AHMEDABAD: A Gujarat court has rejected the six-month-old defamation case filed by industrialist Gautam Adani’s Adani Group against Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Economic and Political Weekly, three other journalists and eminent news portal The Wire. The court only ordered the defendants to remove a sentence and an adverb from the 3500-word article.
The article “Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group” was published in EPW on June 17, 2017 and was reproduced in The Wire on June 19. The Adani Group was so furious over the article that EPW was forced to sack Thakurta.
Moreover, on June 24 and then on July 5, the Adani Group had sent the defamation notice to the publisher of the EPW, namely, Sameeksha Trust and the authors of the article – Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Abir Dasgupta, Advait Rao Palepu and Shinzani Jain. The Wire was also dragged to the court as it had republished the article.
In his November 16 order, which was ignored by the media despite the case being high profile, Principal Senior Civil Judge Jaiminkumar R Pandit, Bhuj, Kutch, rejected the defamation suit against the publishers and authors of the article. The judge, however, ordered the publishers to remove this sentence from the article: “The High Court was misled and wrongly recorded the customs duty on electricity from the SEZ to DTA will not be maintainable as this will lead to double taxation.” The judge also ordered removal of the adverb “Surprisingly” in the same paragraph.
Following the court order, The Wire has added the following note at the end of the same article. “The Wire had contested the application for injunction moved by M/s Adani Power Limited, regarding the article titled “Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group”. The Ld. Principal Senior Civil Judge (Bhuj-Kacch) has accepted all The Wire’s contentions in the said application and has only ordered removal of one line pertaining to a High Court decision as well as one adverb. The Wire is complying with the Ld. Principal Senior Civil Judge’s order dated 16 November, 2017 and removing the said sentence and adverb.”
Sub-titled “The government has quietly tweaked rules relating to special economic zones – and the new rules specifically favour the Adani Group” (June 17, 2017), the sentence of the article which the civil judge ordered to be removed is, “The High Court was misled and wrongly recorded the customs duty on electricity from the SEZ to DTA will not be maintainable as this will lead to double taxation”, and also the adverb “Surprisingly” in the same paragraph, as the allegation lacked “verification.”
Delivered on November 16 , 2017 , though surprisingly went unnoticed despite the high profile nature of the case, the order said, except this “direction”, all the prayers of personal defamation against the publishers and the authors were being “rejected”. As the EPW had already withdrawn the controversial article from its site following the defamation law suit, the direction pertained to “The Wire”, which refused to withdraw the republished article.
Complying by the order, “The Wire” said, in its endnote to the article, “The Wire had contested the application for injunction moved by M/s Adani Power Limited, regarding the article titled ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’. The Ld Principal Senior Civil Judge (Bhuj-Kacch) has accepted all ‘The Wire’s’ contentions in the said application and has only ordered removal of one line pertaining to a High Court decision as well as one adverb.”
The news portal added, “‘The Wire’ is complying with the Ld Principal Senior Civil Judge’s order dated November 16, 2017 and removing the said sentence and adverb”, even as upholding the order. It is not known if the Adani Group would approach a higher judiciary against the Bhuj court order.
The legal victory of the “The Wire” on the Adani defamation case comes alongside a major setback suffered by the son of BJP president Amit Shah, Jay, who filed a Rs 100 crore defamation case against “The Wire” for an article on meteoric rise (“16,000 times”) in his business activities following the party’s ascension to power at the Centre in 2014. The civil court, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad, vacated the “ex parte ad interim injunction” imposed on the news portal by it in October.
Ejecting the case, the court, in its written order, observed that that a questionnaire and an email were sent to the Adani Group before publishing the article, and that the article was published “upon material available”, hence the article “cannot be said to be defamatory”, and hence “there is no prima facie case.”
The article became controversial not just because it had sought to placate one of the top Indian business groups, widely regarded as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Soon after Adani Group filed its defamation case, the EPW withdrew the article from its online portal, making Thakurta, the main author, resign from his post as editor of the top research journal.
Reporting on the withdrawal of the article on the EPW, “The Wire”, which republished the article, not only declared that it would not take down the article, but commented, “Worried about the threat of an expensive lawsuit by one of India’s biggest corporate houses, the trustees running the journal (EPW) ordered the removal of an article critical of Adani Power Ltd.”
“The Wire” decided to fight the law suit filed by the Adani Group along with the article’s authors, who included Abir Dasgupta, EPW editorial assistant, and two independent journalists Advait Rao Palepu and Shinzani Jain.