India TV takes its former anchor to court for joining Republic Bharat

Luckily, the Delhi High Court had some wise things to say.

WrittenBy:Manisha Pande
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Republic TV’s entry into the news media space in 2017 sparked a copyright battle between the channel’s editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami, and his former employer, Times Now.

The Times Group, in fact, had filed a criminal complaint against Goswami and his colleague for “stealing” valuable intellectual property from them.

Now, as Republic TV is all set to venture into the Hindi media space with the launch of Republic Bharat, one of its new recruits is being dragged to court for daring to leave her previous media organisation. The case pertains to India TV filing a suit for “perpetual injunction and damages” against anchorperson Sucherita Kukreti.

Last week, on January 24, India TV approached the Delhi High Court with a 56-page plaint that went into detail on why Kukreti should not be allowed to work with Republic Bharat.

The plaint (a copy of which Newslaundry has read) states that Kukreti had signed a three-year contract with India TV on December 1, 2016, which was to terminate on November 31, 2019. It states that she resigned on December 13, 2018, even as she is not allowed to work with anyone else before the contract terminates.

This is where things get interesting. India TV’s contract — which is part of the plaint — offers zero rights to its employees. The contract categorically states that India TV has the right to terminate the agreement by giving a three-month notice. However, it states that: “The presenter [Kukreti] does not have any right to terminate this agreement.”

That’s not all. The contract further states: “In the event of the presenter failing to discharge the duties and responsibilities under this agreement on account of some exceptional circumstances, such as illness or medical inability, subject to the company accepting the resignation of the presenter, the presenter shall be liable to pay to the company an amount equivalent to six months professional fee.” Emphases added.

So, basically, anyone leaving India TV, even on account of a medical problem, will have to pay the channel six months of their salary.

Based on this contract, India TV sought an immediate injunction on Kukreti working with Republic Bharat and also sought over Rs 2 crore in damages. India TV’s plaint states that since Kukreti’s first job was with the channel, they spent considerable money on grooming and promoting her, which is why she owes them the money. Kukreti joined India TV in 2004 and has since entered into successive three-year contracts with the company till she decided to resign.

The Delhi High Court on January 25 passed an order rejecting India TV’s demand for an ad-interim injunction. The order by Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw stated that: “Granting any interim injunction would amount to restraining the defendant from doing what she has been doing for the last 14 years and what she is best known to do and has skill to do. Ad-interim injunction if granted for the period till 30th November, 2019, would amount to killing the goodwill acquired by the defendant in the last 14 years.”

The order notes:

The ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India ensuring Protection of Life and Personal Liberty to all persons has over the years been expanding. Personal Liberty would include liberty to practice a vocation or profession and being not deprived thereof, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary and which agreement Section 27 of the Contract Act declares as void. Grant of any ad-interim injunction would also be in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The right to life with human dignity of a person is a fundamental right of every citizen for pursuit of happiness and excellence. Liberty aims at freedom not only from arbitrary restraint but also to secure such conditions which are essential for the full development of human personality.

While the case for damages will go on at a snail’s pace, quashing India TV’s demand for an injunction on Kukreti sets a great precedence for journalists battling unreasonably restrictive contracts in their organisations. 


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