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IIPM Arindam Chaudhuri battles AGAINST defamation for once, vs Tata counsel Sid Luthra

Item 9 before the bench of Supreme Court Justices JS Khehar and C Nagappan turned out to be an interesting hearing yesterday (13 April) when counsel for Tata Motors, Sidharth Luthra, persisted that there was a case of defamation against the Sunday Indian magazine, edited by the appellant IIPM-Supremo Arindam Chaudhuri, who has been no stranger to strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) against publishers.

When Luthra said he, “out of respect” for the bench, could not agree with the suggestion that the respondent should accept the apology by the petitioner and let it go, Justice Khehar asked Luthra, to point out, “out of disrespect”, one sentence in the article in question, carried by the Sunday Indian, which was defamatory to his client.

“Be magnanimous” and “don’t be so petty”, Justice Khehar repeatedly told Luthra, who did not relent.

The bench, then, issued notice, and granted liberty to respondents 1 and 2 in the case to file their counter affidavits within two weeks.

The bench also stayed further proceedings in the trial court till further orders.

Arindam Chaudhuri has appealed against the Delhi high court’s judgment of 27 February 2015, which remanded the defamation case filed by Tata Motors against the Sunday Indian back to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, New Delhi, to pass a fresh order after hearing the counsel for the complainant, Tata Motors.

Tata Motors was aggrieved by the article, “People’s Car or ‘Blood Car’? Is Ratan Tata bent on destroying the JRD legacy? Shame in Singur, TSI exposes and documents the disgrace”, which was published in the The Sunday Indian magazine of 5 to 11 February 2007.

The high court had held that the magistrate dismissed the defamation complaint on the basis that the article had been written in good faith (which is a defence to defamation), but had not referred to or had any material on record to prove such good faith.

Luthra had argued before the high court too.

Tata Motors alleged that the article was defamatory and lowered its esteem.

The Magistrate dismissed Tata’s complaint, vide order dated 9 October, 2007. The order read:

The intention of the writer does not seem to defame the complainant and to harm the reputation of the complainant. No malice can be made out from the article. The words ‘Blood Car’ and ‘War Zone’ only seem to be exaggeration in the circumstances which do not mean that the comment is unfair specifically when it seems to be made in good faith and for protection of public interest.

The magistrate refused to take cognisance of defamation on the basis of the allegations, as no prima facie case was made out.

Luthra, however, argued before the high court that the defence of the accused could only be seen during evidence led at the time of trial, and not prior to notice.

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