A court 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, 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.
Two defamation suits
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”.
Scroll.in has asked the Adani Group what prompted them to drop charges against the others, but not against Thakurta. The article will be updated if they respond.
More litigations and a gag order
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.
The court granted an ex-parte gag order (without hearing the other side). This is currently being challenged by the publication.
Arrest warrant ‘unnecessary’, says lawyer
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. “We submitted an application on his behalf that he would appear in the next hearing,” he said.“If nothing has happened between 2017 and 2020, one or two days would not obstruct justice.”