Academic journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) has been served a defamation notice by the Adani Group. The notice was served over a story EPW ran on how the government altered rules for special economic zones (SEZs), which led to the Adani Group reaping a profit of Rs 500 crore.
The EPW article was titled “Modi Government’s ₹500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company”. It claimed: “By frequently changing the rules relating to power projects located in special economic zones, the department of commerce in the ministry of industry and commerce has allowed Adani Power claims for refunds of customs duties to the tune of ₹500 crore. Curiously, the duties were never paid.”
The story was run by EPW in Vol. 52, Issue No. 24, 17 Jun, 2017.
In response to the article, EPW received a legal notice from a lawyer representing Adani Power, which is headed by Gautam Adani. The legal notice accused EPW and the writers of the article of defamation and threatened legal action unless the piece was retracted, an unconditional apology was issued, and any defamatory material on Adani not be published by the magazine “in any manner whatsoever”.
EPW, however, refused to budge and in his reply to Adani Power’s lawyer, EPW’s advocate reaffirmed that each and every word in the article was truthful and backed by documentary evidence.
The EPW story can be read here.
Adani Power’s legal notice can be read here.
EPW’s reply to the legal notice can be read here.
The debate over defamation laws
Speaking to The Logical Indian, EPW Editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta – and one of the four authors of the aforementioned article – said this was not the first time he had received a legal notice.
“I have been a journalist now for 40 years,” he said. “I have received legal notices alleging defamation from a number lawyers representing many organisations. These include companies headed by Shri Subrata Roy, Shri Anil Ambani, Shri Mukesh Ambani, the Times group – and now Gautam Adani of the Adani Group. There are many other personalities whose lawyers have sent me legal notices. But none of these individuals have taken me to court – yet. Even in the current case, the lawyers have not gone to court. As of 5 pm, 11 July 2017, the Adani Group’s lawyers have not gone to court.”
Section 499 and Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code make defamation a criminal offence under law. How should journalists ensure that their independence is not compromised in such a climate?
Mr Guha Thakurta replied, “I have been co-author of a book, Sue the Messenger; the subtitle of the book is “How legal harassment by corporates shackles reportage and undermines democracy in India.” It was published in May 2016 and it documents over a dozen instances where large corporates in India have sought to muzzle and stifle dissenting voices, whether from writers, journalists, social activists etc. You will find that there are a large number of such cases. There is also a case that goes back to the 1950s in the book.”
A recent judgement by the Supreme Court, from a bench headed by Dipak Mishra, upheld the law on defamation, saying the freedom of speech and right to expression are fundamental rights, but these rights are not absolute.
“In my opinion,” Mr Guha Thakurta said, “I disagree with the judgement of the Honourable Supreme Court. In my opinion, the judgement seeks to give the right to his reputation as much importance as the right to free speech, which is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 19(1A) of the Indian Constitution. And then there is Article 19(2), which allows for “reasonable restrictions” on free speech. The problem is who decides what is “reasonable” and what is not. In India, the way Article 19(2) has been interpreted has often been very contentious.”