On 16 February 2018, the Delhi High Court vacated an injunction against The Caravan’s February 2011 cover story, “Sweet Smell of Success,” a profile of Arindam Chaudhuri, the former honorary dean of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). The profile was written by one of The Caravan’s contributing editors, Siddhartha Deb, a renowned novelist and university professor based in New York. It was widely acclaimed at the time of its publication for its thorough and even-handed portrayal of Mr Chaudhuri and the institute he headed.
IIPM had responded to the story by filing a civil defamation lawsuit against The Caravan. The suit, which seeks damages of Rs 500 million, was filed not in Delhi, where both IIPM and the magazine’s publisher Delhi Press are based, but 2,200 kilometres away in Silchar, Assam, 300 kilometres from Dispur, the state capital. The IIPM filed the case at the Court of Civil Judge in Silchar through one Kishorendu Gupta, who was plaintiff number one. IIPM was the second plaintiff.
IIPM had previously filed similar lawsuits against other publishers, also from civil courts in small towns of Assam rather than in Delhi, wherein it managed to obtain ex-parte interim injunctions against publications who attempted to question many of the claims made by the institute in its advertisements and brochures. In addition to the writer Siddhartha Deb, The Caravan’s editors and its publishers, the suit also impleaded Penguin (the publisher of a book by Deb in which the article was meant to be a chapter), and Google India (which, the suit alleged, had been “publishing, distributing, giving coverage, circulating, blogging the defamatory, libelous and slanderous articles”).
A civil court in Silchar had initially granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining The Caravan magazine to remove the article in question from their website, ex-parte, without any pre-hearing notice.
Subsequently, The Caravan filed a transfer petition in the Supreme Court, requesting that it be transferred to Delhi. In August 2011, the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings at the Civil Court in Silchar, and through an order dated 11 August 2015, the case was eventually transferred to the Delhi High Court. After a prolonged hearing, on 16 February 2018, Delhi High Court vacated the injunction against The Caravan on publishing the article, and dismissed the application filed by the IIPM for temporary injunction.
The Delhi High Court held that if the article is read as a whole, the prima facie statements alleged to be defamatory are “either based on the statements made by several persons or on facts available in public domain and/or are the author’s personal opinions and conclusions based on extensive research and report.”
The court also held that prima facie, IIPM has failed to show that the story has been published with a reckless disregard for truth or precipitated by actual malice, or that “the defence of justification/truthfulness/fair comment is one that cannot succeed.”
Following the court’s decision, which was made available on 21 February 2018—for the first time in nearly seven years—The Caravan has now re-published the original article on its website. It can be read at: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/sweet-smell-success-republished
The Caravan considers the high court order in favour of dismissing the IIPM application a major victory towards upholding freedom of press. The Caravan, since mid 2015, has been fighting another defamation case from the Essar Group in Gujarat, for an in-depth cover story in the magazine as well as a series of shorter reports published on the web, all of which looked into the functioning of the conglomerate. The Essar group filed a suit in a city civil court in Ahmedabad, and sued the magazine for Rs 250 crore in damages. Since its relaunch in 2010, The Caravan has also received defamation notices from the industrialist Anil Ambani and Swami Aseemanand, the alleged mastermind of a series of terrorist attacks in India.
It is our belief at The Caravan that we must defend the right of journalists to report on any subjects or persons without undue fear of legal intimidation from powerful entities or organisations that seek to insulate themselves from criticism. Delhi Press, which, in addition to The Caravan, publishes many other popular titles such as Sarita, Woman’s Era, Grihshobha and Mukta, has time and again been at the forefront of defending the right to freedom of speech and freedom of press during its 75 years of publishing history.
The Caravan has received tremendous public support for all its fight against defamation suits in general, and the IIPM and Essar cases in particular. We sincerely thank our readers, well wishers and legal counsel.
We are glad to have a thorough and distinguished piece of journalism by the brilliant writer Siddhartha Deb back in the public domain from today onward, and hope that it will once again be read and shared widely.
The Caravan’s editors and publishers