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Essar v Greenpeace case files: Dhruve Liladhar for Essar; Mihir Desai for Greenpeace alleges SLAPP & misusing IB reports

Essar: Denies it kills forests (photo via Greenpeace Flickr)
Essar: Denies it kills forests (photo via Greenpeace Flickr)

The Essar Group last Monday tried to invoke a critical Intelligence Bureau (IB) report in its Rs 500 crore defamation action against the India chapter of international environmental NGO Greenpeace, in parallel to a second action in a Madhya Pradesh sessions court.

Greenpeace has called the case a strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) to “stifle voices of opposition” against Essar’s allegedly illegal coal mining plans in India’s forests.

Essar had, in January, filed the suit in the Bombay high court against Greenpeace, followed by a case at the district and sessions court Waidhan in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, claiming that the NGO was inciting local people against Essar’s mining plans in the forests of Mahan.

In the Bombay high court petition, Essar claimed that the NGO, in protesting against the mining, had:

“unfurled [a banner on Essar’s seven-floor Mumbai building with] a statement purportedly by the Essar Group that “WE KILL FORESTS”. […] the contents of the banner were not only false and malicious but also ex facie offensive, insulting, distasteful and per se defamatory and libellous of the plaintiff and the Essar Group.”

and

“[Greenpeace] also began to hand out leaflets outside [Essar’s] property. In the said leaflet, once again scurrilous remarks were made against the Essar Group of Companies that it was responsible for the destruction of the forests. […] the contents of the leaflets were not only false and malicious but also ex facie offensive, insulting, distasteful and per se defamatory and libellous of [Essar]”

Dhruve Liladhar & Co (DLC) advised Essar on the petition. DLC, who acted for Essar, did not respond to an email seeking comment since last week. Update 27 February: DLC has responded and confirmed that DLC partner Darshan Mehta is leading on the case in Mumbai but not representing Essar in Madhya Pradesh.

Greenpeace has instructed Mumbai advocate Mihir Desai and has filed a response in an affidavit stating:

“[…] that the present suit is nothing else but what is known as a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) essentially a suit filed in order to prevent public participation in matters that affect the public interest.”

“The Suit is filed with mala fide motives purely to suppress any criticism of the ill deeds of the Essar Group. It is a classic case of corporate culpability and steamrolling by which they seek to silence all those who make genuine criticism of their environmentally degrading, ecologically damaging actions against the interest of thousands of villagers whose livelihood and culture depends on the forests.”

Greenpeace campaigner Arundhati Muthu said: “We stand by everything we’ve said about Essar. We have evidence to back it. We are willing to provide that in court. Essar is clearly trying to bulldoze its way. Now they’ve even brought an IB report into the mix.

“We had a new judge hearing the case. Essar counsel attempted to include the IB report as evidence to which the judge asked what the case was about. On hearing that it was a defamation/trespass suit he asked how the report was relevant to the matter at hand. Essar counsel failed to provide a convincing reply to which he said he could not allow it to be included unless relevance was established,” she added.

The second IB report, “leaked” about a week ago, under the heading, “FCRA-registered Greenpeace spearheading a concerted campaign against India’s energy expansion plans”, alleges collusion with its foreign funders and incitement of local folk and has recommended cancelling permission given to it for collecting funds abroad and the reassessment of its tax compliance.

Greenpeace had released a statement refuting claims in the IB’s first report that the NGO was using people-centric issues that worked against India’s GDP, that it gets money from corporations or the government and that it is not transparent in its operations.

Following the second IB report, Greenpeace had uploaded all its financial statements until December 2012 online and released a statement that it was being targeted with malicious intent, reported the DNA.

Greenpeace claimed that Essar has not fulfilled the 36 conditions requisite for the company to get a forest usage clearance from the government, and therefore alleges illegal commencement of operations in the forest.

Essar v Greenpeace defamation plaint, Bombay High Court by legallyindia

Greenpeace affidavit by legallyindia

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