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Read Essar’s Rs 250 cr Ahmedabad defamation & injunction claim vs Caravan (+ the magazine’s response)

The cover story Essar didn't likeThe cover story Essar didn't like

Essar Steel India has filed a Rs 250 crore defamation suit in the Ahmedabad city civil court against Delhi-headquartered magazine Caravan, its publisher Delhi Press, several of its editors and staff reporter Krishn Kaushik.

The Ahmedabad suit, filed by Gujarat law firm Nanavati Associates, alleges that Caravan’s story “Doing the Needful: Essar’s industry of influence” (published online, requires free registration) and “Purchasing Power – How Essar wields influence over India Government and Finance” (published in its August 2015 edition) was defamatory and made “several imputations… to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputations will harm the reputation of Essar… without any lawful justification and thereby, defamed Essar, including the Plaintiff and its promoters”.

Suit, legal notices and responses available here

Essar in its suit seeks an temporary injunction and ex parte order to restrain the defendants from “in any manner publishing, issuing, circulating, distributing or advertising in any manner whatsoever either in print or electronic or any other form of media any defamatory story or article concerning the Plaintiff”, claiming that there is a “clear cut and strong prima facie case” against Caravan.

“If the reliefs as prayed for herein are granted, no harm, loss, injury or prejudice will be caused to the Defendants. However, if the same are not granted, the Plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm, loss and injury, which cannot be compensated in terms of money,” adds the suit.

Essar also seeks damages of Rs 250 crores as “a genuine pre-estimate of the damages suffered by it considering that it is a part of a large conglomerate ‘Essar’ which has investments in various sectors such as steel, energy, infrastructure etc and having operations in more than 29 countries across 5 continents and the worldwide goodwill and reputation that it holds”.

The case was filed in Ahmedabad because Essar is “carrying on substantial business” in the city and has corporate offices there, while Caravan is circulated in Ahmedabad and has an office in the city. The case is expected to be heard in the Ahmedabad city civil court on Monday, 24 August. Correction: The case is expected to be heard on 24 September, not 24 August.

The suit lists 12 statements and/or comments that the company alleges are “per se defamatory… without the least justification”:

It does not contain fair and accurate information regarding the affairs of Essar. The comments made therein against Essar are reckless and wholly unfair and generally considered as disgraceful. The same cannot be said to have been made for public good. There is also no material to show good faith behind the publication…

Essar's allegations of defamatory parts of the articleEssar's allegations of defamatory parts of the article

Notices and responses

The suit follows two legal notices sent by Essar.

The first was sent via Supreme Court advocate Abhimanyu Bhandari on 21 July in relation to Caravan’s online story titled “How Essar Handed Out 195 iPads as Diwali Gifts to Top Politicians, Bureaucrats and Journalists in 2010”.

The second notice was sent via Supreme Court advocates Agarwal Law Associates on 8 August relating to the cover story (at page 42 of the suit).

Caravan’s lawyer Amit Gupta responded to both notices respectively on 25 July, with a six page letter, and on 18 August, with a 10-page letter, denying Essar’s defamation allegations point by point.

In the 18 August response to the legal notice, Gupta noted that the disputed story was “based on the facts provided by the whistleblower” who was an employee of Essar and whose leaked documents were used by Prashant Bhushan in a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in addition to “extensive research, investigation and interviews” of by the Caravan’s staff reporter Kaushik:

Caravan's reply on Kaushik's reportingCaravan's reply on Kaushik's reporting

Gupta’s reply also stated that “several crucial facts” in the story were never rebutted by Essar.

Caravan's reply on points allegedly not addressed by EssarCaravan's reply on points allegedly not addressed by Essar

Essar had threatened the Indian Express and its journalists with arrest for receiving stolen property in February 2015, for publishing a story based on the whistleblower’s leaked emails that alleged that the company treated important politicians and contacts to perks and gifts.

In 2014 Essar filed a Rs 500 crore defamation claim against the India chapter of Greenpeace for the NGO’s action unfurling a banner on Essar’s offices stating “WE KILL FORESTS”. [read Essar’s petitions and Greenpeace’s responses here]

Caravan and Gupta won a reprieve from the Supreme Court against the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), as reported on 12 August by Legally India, transferring the 2011 defamation case against it from Silchar in Assam to the Delhi high court.

Caravan v Essar - Ahmedabad civil suit 2065 of 2015 (PDF)

Response by Caravan to Essar’s legal notice, before the suit (PDF)

First legal notice and response available here

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Like +1 Object -1 Not a Gujarat Judge 23 Aug 15, 00:15
Won't stick. Not with the Supreme Court having issued notices on the same allegations. Essar should have sued Indian Express months ago and if they didn't do it then, they have no case for an injunction now - particularly after Caravan has stood by its story. So, it shouldn't surprise when the court throws out the injunction application.

I don't think there will be any trial in this case so long as the Government is looking into any of the alleged irregularities. And, Essar I think made a huge mistake in filing something that a magazine is refusing to acknowledge as false. This is a civil case and preponderance of probabilities test may not really operate in Essar's favour if they think they have anything to hide from a court. Bad move, under the circumstances.

Expect Caravan will fully exploit the discovery provisions in the CPC to get to Essar's books and notes.
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Like +3 Object -0 Essar claims are weak 23 Aug 15, 10:05
Even Abhimanyu Bhandari seems to have made a few slip ups.

1) The matter of 195 iPADs is admitted by Essar to be a leak, per Notice of 21 July. The fact is not contested but only ownership of emails proving that fact. You have just proved there is factual basis.

2) All round protection is a mistake. Why try to protect Dhurli Sarpanch's reputation when your job is to protect ESSAR's? Bhandari made the same mistake in another suit, http://delhihighcourt.nic.in/dhcqrydisp_o.asp?pn=39418&yr=2013 (trying to protect the reputation of a disposable employee of the client, an unnamed and allegedly "damned and sex starved former Physics teacher who... moral turpitude").

The case is inherently weak though, for no fault of counsel.
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Like +0 Object -0 Johnny 23 Aug 15, 11:43
Also, the damages sought seem to be pretty arbitrary. It would be hard to establish that the claims by Caravan were so detrimental as to entitle them to such a large amount. The whole litigation seems quite ill-advised.
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Like +1 Object -0 Interested 24 Aug 15, 12:20
I'd like to know which lawyer/firm does the corporate work for Essar, in particular, these projects in Chattisgarh.
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Like +0 Object -0 Counsel 24 Aug 15, 20:27
Update on the suit - http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/court-grants-time-to-magazine-to-file-reply-in-defamation-suit/articleshow/48655993.cms
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Like +0 Object -0 Chor 25 Aug 15, 10:40
Chor karre seenajori.
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Like +0 Object -0 do the needful work! 25 Aug 15, 11:09
The big saving factor here is that Truth is an absolute defense. And express malice is not pleaded. I hope these things stay that way.

Many other statments of Caravan which go like "I found..." etc are benign, they go into the "opinions based on facts" bucket... so far so good. At viii) the "if true" qualification is a clear road sign for the "reasonable man" (hey women, you are very much men to me here) and limits wild extrusions of woolly imputations from what is.

However, I see a bit of a conundrum with items ix) and x) -- Any proof that Maoists were paid? Any proof that favorable media stories were planted? Moti Ramani would do well to discover "the needful" in relation to these.
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