Gujarat High Court Quashes The Wire’s Plea in Jay Shah Case [Read Judgment]
A single judge bench of the Gujarat High Court comprising of Justice J B Pardiwala, on Monday, 8th January, rejected the plea filed by news portal ‘The Wire’ which sought quashing of a criminal defamation case filed against it by BJP president Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah over an article published against his company by the news portal on the grounds that the article, “The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah”, is per se “defamatory”. The High Court has further asked the trial court to proceed with the case.
On October 8th, ‘The Wire’ had published an article titled “The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah” which had alleged that the company owned by Jay Shah saw a rise in its turnover 16,000 times in one year after the BJP came to power. The annual turnover increased from Rs 80,000 to about Rs 80 crore.
Jay Shah had, therefore, filed a defamation suit alleging that The Wire had defamed him and lowered his reputation in all respect thereby violating his right to reputation and right to privacy and causing irreparable damage, harm and injury to his reputation and invading his privacy. He had also claimed damages of Rs.100,00,00,000/- from the news portal.
Thereafter the court had initiated proceedings against The Wire under the CrPC section 202 (to inquire into a case to decide whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding).
The suit has been filed against the author of the article Rohini Singh, founding editors of the news portal Siddharth Varadarajan, Siddharth Bhatia and M K Venu, managing editor Monobina Gupta, public editor Pamela Philipose and the Foundation for Independent Journalism.
Adv. Mihir joshi appeared as the counsel on behalf of the author of the article and editors of the news portal while Adv. S V Raju represented Mr. Jay Shah.
The petitioner had claimed that the article was not “defamatory,” and the facts presented in it were based on public documents. Further, the article was a part of investigative journalism and filing a criminal defamation suit against it curbed the freedom of the press.
Adv. Joshi claimed that the case was fully covered by explanation-4 to section 499 of the IPC and the article in question had, in no manner, lowered the moral character of Jay shah . He submitted that the entire article in question was based on the public record and that a public person or a person holding a public office should not be so “thin skinned” or should be rather “thick skinned” so as to complain about the allegations or the averments or the write ups which may take place against him in the media unless they are grossly defamatory per se.
However on the other hand submissions were made by the counsel on behalf of Jay Shah that the article was “defamatory” and that the article did not contain fair and accurate information regarding the business of the complainant. The comments made against Jay Shah were full of innuendos deliberately made, which could be termed as wholly unfair and generally disgraceful. It was further alleged that the defamatory article could not be said to have been published for the public go as there was nothing to indicate any good faith on the part of the accused persons in publishing such an article.
It was also submitted by the lawyer that the two witnesses examined by the lower court had established that the reputation of his client was tarnished due to its publication.
On Wednesday, 28th November, the Gujarat High Court headed by Justice Paresh Upadhyay had directed the trial court to complete the hearing in the case in six months. Read more here. But the High Court withdrew that order on Monday 8th January.
The Court observed, “The most disturbing part of the article, or to put it in other words, the imputation which could be termed as prima facie defamatory is the averment that the turnover of the company owned by the complainant, who happens to be the son of the leader of the Bhartiya Janta Party increased 16,000/- times over in the year following the election of Shri Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister and the elevation of hisfather to the post of the party president. I do not propose to go into the question whether there has been any escalation, as pointed out in the article in question. What is important is the strong innuendo that the complainant has prospered because of the fact that he happens to be the son of a very powerful political leader, and that too, at a point of time when Shri Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of the country. Let me put it straight without mincing any words. Prima facie, the article tries to portray a picture that an ordinary company, which had a meager revenue of Rs.50,000/- proceeded to accumulate the revenue of Rs.80,00,00,000/- in a single year and that is only because of the political position of the father of the complainant and at a time when Shri Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister. What would be the effect on the mind of a common man when he would read the article inquestion.?….”
The Court while deciding the matter referred to a plethora of judgments by the Apex Court with regard to freedom of press and criminal defamation.
Thus the court summed up:
“In the overall view of the matter, as discussed aforesaid, I have reached to the conclusion that it would not be appropriate for this Court to quash the complaint at the threshold. I must give an opportunity to the complainant to establish his case. At the same time, the accused persons will also have a right to defend themselves by placing reliance on explanation 4 of section 499 IPC as well as the First exception of section 499 IPC. Whatever has been submitted on behalf of the accused is in the form of defence….
….Questions that may arise for consideration depending on the stand taken by the accused at the trial and how the complainant proposes to demolish the defence and that stage for deciding these questions had not arrived at the stage of issuing process. It is stated, Answers to these questions at this stage, even before the plea of the accused is recorded can only be a priori conclusions. Good faith and public good are, as we said, questions of fact and matters for evidence. So, the trial must go on.”
Read the judgment below: