Khaitan & Co and Mulla & Mulla Cragie Blunt & Caroe, respectively acting on behalf of the Ambani brothers’ Reliance Industries (RIL) and Reliance Natural Resources (RNRL), have served a total of three defamation notices to journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhari, who on 15 April released their book Gas Wars – Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis.
Khaitan & Co Mumbai partners Haigreve Khaitan and Sachin Mandlik are acting for Mukesh Ambani-owned RIL and had sent two defamation notices to the authors, publisher and distributors.
Dubbing the 588-page book a “pamphlet”, the first notice by RIL of 16 April asked the authors to stop sale of, recall, stop publicity of and destroy all copies of the book created, sold and publicised, and to tender an unconditional apology to RIL for having publicised, sold and distributed defamatory content about the Reliance family.
Mulla & Mulla partner DJ Kakalia is acting for Anil Ambani’s RNRL, which on 22 April sent a similarly worded notice to the authors.
On 23 April RIL through Khaitan sent a second notice to the authors demanding “token damages” of Rs 100 crore to be paid to it within 10 days of receipt of notice, in view of the “libel, slander and defamation suffered by [us] which is irreparable” from the 15 April book launch of Gas Wars.
The notice also singled out Thakurta for allegedly making “defamatory and malicious comments by quoting an utterly defamatory and mischievous statement” originally made by former West Bengal governor GK Gandhi on 15 April at a lecture.
A Khaitan & Co spokesperson declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the dispute, while Kakalia was not reachable for comment.
Kakalia had also acted for Anil Ambani in 2009, when he was fighting in the Bombay high court over the price of Rs 1,000 crore ($209m) gas supply contract between his and his brother’s company. In 2009 RIL was represented by law firm AS Dayal & Associates, which almost exclusively worked for RIL.
Amicus Juris advocate Sumant De is understood to be defending Thakurta, Ghosh and Chaudhari.
RIL, through Khaitan, has also served notices on the booksellers Flipkart, Amazon’s local subsidiary and e-book publisher Kobo, as well as the books publishers FEEL Books and Authors Upfront, and Foundation for Media Professionals representative Deepshikha Shankar who had forwarded email invites to the book launch event.
The book’s homepage lists Amazon India and Flipkart as sellers of the book, and Amazon international, Kobo, Apple iTunes in the US and Barnesandnoble in the US and UK as sellers of the eBook. At the time of going to press, the book was still apparently available for sale on all these sites, though only two copies were left in stock on Amazon India.
RNRL, through Mulla, served the three authors and the book’s printer, Saurabh Printers, based in Noida.
Legally India could not confirm the legal advisers to the other respondents at the time of going to press.
Separately, RIL has also served a legal notice on financial magazine Moneylife and its managing editors for articles about the book.
In a YouTube video interview Thakurta said on 21 April that he had been working on the book for four-and-a-half years out of concern about the allotment of natural resources “belonging to people of this country” lacking transparency.
In the video Thakurta said that most of the claims in the book that RIL has alleged are defamatory, have been published before by others. “We are not the first persons to be saying these things. Dozens and dozens of newspaper articles, television programmes, documentary films, all of which have made precisely the same arguments that we have.”
Thakurta said that one of the respondents named in RIL’s notice, Deepshikha Shankar, had forwarded email invites to the book launch to her friend as “a personal favour and for that she has been served a legal notice – I am not just sad, I’m really outraged that this is the way the biggest corporation in this country headed by India’s richest man should be behaving”.
The authors, who are all experienced journalists, had also issued statements for the International Publishers’ Association, United Kingdom and the American Association of Publishers. On the first notice by RIL of 16 April, the authors’ stated that “the book ‘GAS WARS’ has been ‘more than fair’ providing version of events, circumstances and controversies based on research made from various public documents, opinion of individuals available in public and media reports”.
The author’s statement to RNRL’s 22 April notice was:
“1. The book ‘Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis' has been more than fair to Reliance Natural Resources Limited (RNRL) and ADAG Chairman Shri Anil D. Ambani by quoting and providing their version of events, circumstances and controversies in considerable length and depth.
2. The authors believe that nothing written in the book can be construed as being defamatory to any individual or corporate entity. All the information and views in the book are based on extensive research and obtained from various official documents and opinions of individuals that are available in the public domain, including media reports etc.”
It is understood that a formal response by the respondents’ lawyers to RIL and RNRL is being prepared.
The price of gas sold by domestic producers has been doubled with effect from 1 April, though the increase is on hold until the end of the May general elections on orders of the Election Commission of India (EC), reported Mint, explaining that the price increase would have benefited producers including RIL and state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC).
The Supreme Court is hearing writ petition 728 of 2013 on the price increase, filed by the NGO Common Cause, of which Thakurta is a governing council member. RIL alleged that the Gas Wars “pamphlet” was based on the “very same issues” which have been raised in that writ, “which needless to mention are false, baseless and imaginary”.