EPW editorial head quits after legal notice from Adani lawyers prompts publication to delete two articles critical of conglomerate

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, editor-in-chief of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), quit his position on Tuesday after lawyers of Adani Power Ltd, a group owned and founded by Gautam Adani, sent a letter to EPW and four authors (Thakurta, Advait Rao Palepu, Shinzani Jain and Abir Dasgupta) for two articles that were published on the EPW website.

The letter in question relates to two news items titled, ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’ and ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’, published on 14 January, 2017 and 24 June 2017, respectively, which the lawyers said were “defamatory and harmful to the reputation of their client”. The Wire, which published links to the two articles, and quoted from the letter, said it has received a similar letter from Adani Power Ltd’s legal representatives.

 EPW editorial head quits after legal notice from Adani lawyers prompts publication to delete two articles critical of conglomerate

A file image of founder and owner of Adani conglomerate Gautam Adani. Reuters

The Wire reported that Thakurta quit soon after the board met on Tuesday, after which they directed the editorial department to take down both the articles.

Thakurta's exit after the letter sent by lawyers of Adani Power Ltd is an example of what is commonly known as SLAPP — strategic lawsuits against public participation, which are used by a corporation as a strategic measure “against a group or activist opposing certain action taken by the corporation”, according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, involving burdening the defendant with hefty legal fees and copious amounts of paperwork, amounting from a defamation suit.

Several countries, including the United States of America (where it is limited to a few states), have adopted anti-SLAPP statutes to protect free speech. India, however, offers no such relief. Sections 499 and 500 in the Indian Penal Code deal with criminal defamation. While the former defines the offence of defamation, the latter defines the punishment for it. On 16 May, 2016, a Supreme Court bench, comprising Justice Dipak Mishra and Prafulla C Pant ruled that the “right to freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right”.

Ajay Kumar, an advocate practicing at the Bombay High Court told Firstpost, "In other countries there is a clear costs regime. The losing party pays the costs in a civil action. In India, while we may have a costs regime, the costs awarded often do not add up to the amount spent on the litigation. For example, if someone were to successfully defend a SLAPP action in India, they would find it difficult to recover their actual legal and court costs."

Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 12:01:18 IST