NEW DELHI: In what is seen a victory for the top news portal “The Wire”, which republished an article by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and three other journalists from the “Economic and Political Weekly” (EPW), “Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group”, Principal Senior Civil Judge Jaiminkumar R Pandit, Bhuj, Kutch, deciding on the interim application, has “rejected” the defamation plea against the publishers and authors of the article, even as directing them to remove a sentence and a word from it.
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 this year, 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 As the EPW had already withdrawn the controversial article from its site following the defamation law suit, the direction pertained to “The Wire”, which refused to withdraw the republished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 order 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.
Rejecting the Adanis’ plea, 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. Sarim Naved, advocate for “The Wire” and the authors of the article, said, “Only the interim application has been decided. The suit remains to be fought.”