After 7 Years, Delhi High Court Removes Gag Order From The Caravan's Cover Story On IIPM's Arindam Chaudhuri
On February 16, 2018, Delhi High Court removed a gag order against The Caravan for their February 2011 cover story, “Sweet Smell of Success – How Arindam Chaudhuri made a fortune of the aspirations and insecurities of India’s middle classes”, which was a detailed profile of Arindam Chaudhuri and Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM).
The article was written by one of The Caravan’s contributing editors, Siddhartha Deb, who is a renowned novelist. It was heavily appreciated for its in-depth research and thorough portrayal of Chaudhuri and his institution.
In response to the article, IIPM filed a Rs 500 crore defamation case against the magazine. What is surprising is that the case was not filed in Delhi, where the magazine and the publishers are based, but in Silchar, Assam.
IIPM had previously filed similar lawsuits against other publishers, also from civil courts in small towns of Assam rather than in Delhi, wherein it managed to obtain ex-parte interim injunctions against publications who attempted to question many of the claims made by the institute in its advertisements and brochures.
In addition to the writer Siddhartha Deb, The Caravan’s editors and its publishers, the suit also impleaded Penguin (the publisher of a book by Deb in which the article was meant to be a chapter), and Google India (which, the suit alleged had been “publishing, distributing, giving coverage, circulating, blogging the defamatory, libelous and slanderous articles”), as reported by The Caravan.
The Caravan filed a request for the case to be transferred to the Delhi High Court. On August 2015, the case was finally moved. In February this year, the apex court removed the injunction and The Caravan decided to publish the article on February 21. Although the article has been republished, certain service providers have still blocked it.
During the hearing, Chaudhuri’s counsel Nishit Kush contended that the picture used as the thumbnail makes Chaudhuri look like a magician, thus, indicating he is a fraudster. The article also made his client look bad because of the alleged derogatory comments that tarnished his image in public.
The Delhi High Court held that if the article is read as a whole, the prima facie statements alleged to be defamatory are “either based on the statements made by several persons or on facts available in public domain and/or are the author’s personal opinions and conclusions based on extensive research and report,” according to The Caravan.
The Logical Indian take
India ranking of 136 out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, exposed the threat to the plurality of expression in the country. With the escalating cases of silencing of media, regulations that hinder press freedom need to be revisited.
Hence, it is refreshing to see that the Supreme Court has removed the gag order from The Caravan. Hopefully, justice will prevail in other such cases too.