Anil Ambani’s defamation spree: Reliance files 28 cases against media, individuals
Debt ridden Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group created a stir in October this year when it filed a slew of defamation suits against media organisations, journalists and politicians for raising questions about the Rafale deal, as per a report published in Scroll.in
Also, according to The Telegraph, ‘It was the largest defamation blitz in recent memory in the country’.
The blitz is actually bigger then what was reported – and stretches beyond Rafale.
According to court records, since January 2018, four Anil Ambani-owned companies have filed 28 defamation suits in Ahmedabad courts.
According to the report in Scroll.in, 20 cases are against media organisations and journalists, while eight cases are against politicians from Opposition parties.
The defendants include international news outlets like Bloomberg and Financial Times, and also a wide range of Indian publications like The Week, The Economic Times, The Tribune, The Financial Express, The Wire and the news channel NDTV.
Among the journalists who have been sued, independent of any media organisation, are former Financial Times reporter James Crabtree and Business Standard columnist Ajai Shukla, as reported in the article published in Scroll.in.
The politicians facing litigation include former former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy and Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan.
Notably, Scroll.in examined the court records in all 28 cases and contacted the organisations and individuals sued. Apparently, some defendants said they had received notices from the Reliance Group threatening legal action but they were not aware of court proceedings initiated against them since they have not received any summons.
Where as other defendants said they were not given enough time to respond to the legal notices. Scroll.in has also verified one notice that asked a media organisation to publish an unconditional apology and retraction or remove the published article, and cease and desist from publishing similar articles, all ‘within 24 hours of the receipt of this notice’.
Executive senior vice president for corporate communications and public affairs Reliance Group’s has acknowledged Scroll.in’s email but did not respond to the queries.
Reliance Communications, Reliance Infrastructure, Reliance Aerostructure and Reliance Naval and Engineering, which was formerly Reliance Defence are the four group companies that have filed cases in Ahmedabad.
However, the cases go beyond the coverage of Rafale. Several of them relate to news reports on the sale of key telecom assets by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications to his brother Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio in December 2017.
26 cases are civil suits in the Ahmedabad City and Civil Sessions Court, claiming damages under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. According to a previous report published in Scroll.in, Ahmedabad is a preferred destination for filing defamation suits because Gujarat laws cap court fees at Rs 75,000, no matter how high the value of the suit.
Two of those cases are criminal defamation suits in the Metropolitan Magistrate Court. One is against ‘Ajay Shukla’, presumably the journalist Ajai Shukla who is a coloumnist in the financial daily- Business Standard, under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code which prescribes punishment upto two years of imprisonment, if the charges are proven. The other is against ‘Mangalam Keshavn Venu’, presumably Mangalam Kesavan Venu is the founding editor of The Wire.
Of the civil suits filed by Anil Ambani’s reliance group, the one against NDTV appears to involve the highest amount of damages claimed – Rs 10,000 crore. According to the report in The Telegraph, it had calculated that the damages claimed in 11 cases add up to Rs 65,000 crore. Moreover, according to Scroll.in has been able to additionally confirm damages of Rs 15,500 crore in five other cases, which takes the amount of damages claimed in 16 cases to Rs 80,500 crore. The full extent of damages sought in all 27 cases is yet to be ascertained.