Targeting Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

A Correspondent

Acourt in Gujarat's Kutch district on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant against journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in a defamation suit filed by the Adani Group. The case pertains primarily to two articles about the business conglomerate that were published first in the Economic and Political Weekly and then in The Wire.

The first article headlined "Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?" was published in January 2017, while the second "Modi Government's Rs 500 Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group" followed six months later in June. Guha Thakurta, then the editor of EPW, had co-written the articles with other journalists.

The articles alleged that the government unduly favoured the Adani Group, helping it expand and evade taxes.

The Adani Group sent a legal notice to the publications, asking them to take down the articles, claiming they were defamatory. The EPW took them down, which led Thakurta to resign as editor.

After The Wire refused to comply with the notice, the Adani Group went to court applying for an injunction. It also filed two cases against the authors and the editors of The Wire in two different courts in Gujarat: a civil defamation suit in Bhuj and a criminal defamation case in Mundra.

In 2018, the Principal Senior Civil Judge of Bhuj turned down the injunction request in the civil defamation suit. The article could stay on The Wire's website, the court ruled, subject to some minor tweaking: the removal of a sentence and an adverb.

In 2019, shortly after the general elections, the Adani Group withdrew all civil and criminal proceedings in the matter against all parties - except Thakurta.

The company's action of dropping charges against everyone but Thakurta amounted to "witch-hunting" and "maliciously following somebody", said his lawyer Anand Yagnik.

Yagnik said they then approached the Gujarat High court, which sent back the criminal case to the Mundra court for "reconsideration".

Thakurta is also at the centre of another litigation initiated by the company. Last year, a group company, Adani Power Rajasthan Limited, approached an Ahmedabad court, seeking a gag order on the news website Newsclick from reporting on the company, among other things.

Their objection: a series of articles written by Thakurta and his colleagues on the company allegedly benefiting from former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra's judgments.

The court granted an ex-parte gag order (without hearing the other side). This is currently being challenged by the publication.

In the criminal defamation case where Thakurta is the lone defendant, his lawyer Yagnik claimed the Mundra court's decision to issue a non-bailable arrest warrant was "unnecessary". "To issue a non-bailable warrant directly is an abject violation of the law laid down by the Supreme Court," he said.

Court records show that Thakurta was issued summons in January 2020 asking him to depose before the Mundra court.

The latest court order notes that Thakurta was asked to be present in court several times, but he had failed to comply. Thus, the necessity of the arrest warrant, the judge reasoned.

But Yagnik claimed this was only the "second effective hearing" after the resumption of physical courts following closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the use of intimidatory tactics by powerful corporate houses against journalists to prevent media scrutiny. The case in point is the non-bailable arrest warrant that has been issued against senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, by a court in Gujarat's Kutch district, for an article he had co-authored against the Adani group in 2017.

The issue of a non-bailable warrant by a lower court against Mr Thakurta is another example of how intolerant the business houses have become to any criticism. Routinely they have targeted independent and intrepid journalists by using the very instruments that provide media the necessary protection.

At the same time, the Editors Guild is disturbed on how the judiciary in this case has become a part of this exercise to muzzle free press. Criminal defamation laws are often used by those in power to suppress any scrutiny by the media, and this case is a prime example of how such laws can be misused against the cause of free and independent media.

The Editors Guild of India strongly urges the Adani group to withdraw the criminal case against Mr Thakurta.

Vol. 53, No. 34, Feb 21 - 27, 2021