A case filed against The Caravan by Arindam Chaudhuri’s Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) and one Kishorendu Gupta was yesterday shifted from the trial court at Silchar, Assam, to the Delhi High Court. While delivering the order on the matter, which has been pending in the Supreme Court for four years, Justice Madan B Lokur, who was hearing the case, along with Justice RK Agarwal, described IIPM’s suit as “bogus litigation.”
In February 2011, The Caravan published a cover story on Arindam Chaudhuri, the director of the IIPM. The piece, by Siddhartha Deb, one of the magazine’s contributing editors, was acclaimed for its nuanced portrayal of a controversial figure, and for its insight into the educational aspirations of thousands of young people who enrolled at the IIPM.
Soon after publication, the IIPM filed a Rs 50-crore lawsuit against The Caravan, citing “grave harassment and injury.” In addition to The Caravan and its proprietors, the suit charges Siddhartha Deb, Penguin (the publisher of Deb’s book The Beautiful and The Damned, in which the article was a chapter), and Google India (which, the suit alleges, has been “publishing, distributing, giving coverage, circulating, blogging the defamatory, libelous and slanderous articles”).
The suit was filed, not in Delhi, where both the IIPM and the magazine’s publisher, Delhi Press, are based, but 2,200 kilometres away in Silchar, Assam, 300 kilometres from Dispur, Assam’s capital. The IIPM filed the case at the Court of Civil Judge in Silchar district, through one Kishorendu Gupta, who operated Gupta Electrical Engineers in a Silchar suburb, and was the first plaintiff. Gupta was a commissioned agent who worked for the IIPM on a contractual basis. Although he was called a counselor, a contract between Gupta and IIPM showed that he was a recruitment agent who was paid for his service on a commission basis. IIPM’s contract with Gupta stated (from the agreement submitted by the plaintiffs in the court):
“for number of students enrolled between 1 to 24, the compensation would be Rs 75,000 per student …[and] for anyone who crosses the 25 students mark, the compensation would be Rs 90,000 per student…[and] for anyone who crosses the 50 student mark, the compensation would be Rs 1,25,000 per student”
IIPM was the second plaintiff in the case.
The civil court in Silchar granted the IIPM a preliminary injunction, enjoining Delhi Press to remove the article in question from their website, ex-parte, without any pre-hearing notice.
That same year, The Caravan filed a transfer petition before the Supreme Court asking that the suit be transferred from Silchar to Delhi High Court on the grounds that, except for one party to the suit, all other parties were based in or around Delhi. In August, the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings at the Silchar court.
IIPM had filed similar lawsuits against certain other publishers, also in Silchar, Assam, rather than in Delhi. Among these were Rashmi Bansal, a blogger and editor of Just Another Magazine; and Careers360, which questioned many of the claims made by the IIPM in its brochures and advertisements.
Last year, the Delhi High Court had barred IIPM from advertising itself as a management school or offering Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) or Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees since it was not recognised by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Key to the Supreme Court’s order yesterday was the fact that Kishorendu Gupta had died in the intervening years. The Court agreed with The Caravan’s submission that the suit could not be continued by his legal heirs since no decree in his favour had been passed yet. As the other parties to the case are all based in Delhi, the Court agreed that the case should be transferred to the Delhi High Court.
The Court also made repeated queries about IIPM’s activities, asking whether it was still functioning, what degree or diploma it awarded, and whether it had University Grants Commission recognition.
After hearing the arguments, the judges asked IIPM’s counsel to withdraw the suit, since they felt that it lacked merit. When they returned to the matter shortly after, the counsel told the court that he did not for the moment have instructions to withdraw the suit.