Monday, October 2, 2023

Bombay High Court grants interim relief to India Express in Rs 100 crore defamation suit

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The High Court of Bombay has granted temporary relief of Rs 100 crore to the Indian Express Group against the owners of e-paper Sprouts in a defamation suit.

The online news portal had allegedly published a defamatory report against Editor-in-Chief of Loksatta, Girish Kuber, alleging that Kuber had attended a lunch with Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and also received a gift from Fadnavis. 

The article further alleged that Kuber had compromised the principles of journalism. Loksatta is the Marathi newspaper of the Express group.

Indian Express had moved the High Court seeking Rs 100 crore damages against the online news portal. The suit further made WhatsApp, Meta Platforms and Twitter as parties to the case to ensure compliance of the court orders.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Manish Pitale noted that the defendant(s) were not able to prove their allegations before the court. They just repeatedly mentioned that the high standard of journalism was compromised by Girish Kuber, it added.

The High Court directed the defendants to delete, take down and remove the defaming news reports from their web page and social media platforms. 

Justice Pitale ordered removal of the articles dated November 3 and November 6, 2022 within 48 hours of the order. 

It further directed the online portal to refrain from uploading, republishing, reposting, circulating, forwarding any defamatory material in context of news articles/ reports shared against the plaintiffs.

The High Court also directed Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to take appropriate measures for compliance of the court order on failure of defendants(s) to act accordingly.

Representing the Indian Express Group, Advocate Abhinav Chandrachud argued that the plaintiff has agreed to his presence and acceptance of the voucher in the event organised by Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis.

However, it did not prove the allegations put forward. No material proof was placed before the court to depict any articles/reports published to provide undue benefit to the Deputy CM, Chandrachud pointed out.

He referred to the Supreme Court verdict delivered in the Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd vs Chitroopa Pali and Anr case, wherein the Apex Court had pronounced that in case of no prima facie justification of the arguments presented by defendants, interlocutory relief should be granted.

He contended that the compliance of order by WhatsApp LLC would not be possible as individuals sending messages on the platform could perhaps not be injuncted or controlled by it due to the very nature on its platform. The Court accepted this position.

The matter to be next taken up before the court on July 12.

Advocates Pranit Kulkarni, Tejaswi Ghag and Shivam Singh, briefed by Advocate Poorvi Kamani, also appeared for the Express group. 

Whatsapp was represented by Advocates Vishal Shriyan and Arsalan Thaver, while Advocates Akash Menon and Bency Ramakrishnan appeared for Meta.

Twitter was represented by Advocates Alankar Kirpekar and Ayush Tiwari briefed by MAG legal.

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