On January 19, a court in Kutch, Gujarat, issued an arrest warrant for journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in a defamation suit filed by the Adani Group, one of India’s leading corporate houses.
According to , judicial magistrate Pradeep Soni pronounced that Thakurta was charged under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, and ordered the police in Delhi’s Nizamuddin, where the seasoned editor lived when the complaint was filed in 2017, to "arrest the said accused and to produce him before me".
The case dates back to June 2017 when Thakurta, then editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, co-wrote a explaining how the Narendra Modi government’s tweaking of special economic zone rules had led to the Adani Group reaping a benefit of Rs 500 crore.
In January that year, he had co-written another report on the Adani Group, headlined “”.
Though the reports questioned the government’s actions, it was the Adani Group which sent a legal notice to EPW and filed a defamation suit against the authors alleging that their reports were defamatory and harmful to its reputation.
This caused the board of the Sameeksha Trust, which runs the EPW, to take down the June 2017 report, prompting Thakurta to resign as the editor. The censored article was republished by the , inviting an injunction from the Adani Group.
In 2019, however, the corporation withdrew its complaint against the Wire and all the other accused, except Thakurta. The case hadn’t moved since until the court suddenly issued the warrant against Thakurta.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Thakurta’s lawyer, Anand Yagnik, confirmed that the Adani Group had dropped its complaint against all accused in 2019, except Thakurta. Thakurta continued to attend the court until the pandemic hit India early last year. Though all lower courts were closed because of the pandemic, the judicial magistrate in Kutch continued to issue summons for Thakurta. “This was unfortunate and we asked how summons could be issued when the courts are closed,” Yagnik said, “but we did not get the answer.”
On Monday, when Gujarat’s lower courts reopened on the direction of the state’s chief justice, Thakurta was to appear before the Kutch magistrate. “We requested the court to exempt Thakurta from personal appearance and said he would be present at the next hearing,” Yagnik said. “But the court didn’t accept our request saying the case was from 2017 and since he had been present through 2019 he should be present now as well.”
Yagnik argued that the issuance of a non-bailable arrest warrant for Thakurta went against the Supreme Court’s order that if an accused doesn’t attend a hearing for any reason that is unacceptable to the court, it should first issue a bailable warrant. If the accused still doesn’t appear, then the court can issue a non-bailable warrant.
“We will be challenging the warrant on these grounds. Today we have received a copy of the order, tomorrow we will be filing an application,” he added.
This isn’t the only case Thakurta is facing.
In September 2020, Adani Power Rajasthan Limited filed civil and criminal suits against Newsclick, where Thakurta now consults, seeking damages worth Rs 100 crore for publishing a pair of reports about the corporate house, headlined “ and These were co-authored by Thakurta and he was among those named in the suits by the Adani Group, which claimed the reports were “scandalous, frivolous, misleading, derogatory, libelous, defamatory”, and “nothing but tittle-tattle”.
Proceedings are yet to start in the criminal case, but in the civil suit, an Ahmedabad court has served a gag order on Newsclick, restricting it from reporting on the Adani Group. The news website had challenged the defamation suits immediately.