BSES Limited, a company in the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG), has sought Rs 5,000 crore as damages from Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), publishers of the Times of India, for allegedly defamatory articles printed by the newspaper in August 2015. (source: The Hoot)
On August 18, the TOI carried a series of articles by Josy Joseph based on a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) that found various discrepancies in the accounts maintained by electricity distribution companies in Delhi. The same day Mulla & Mulla and Craigie Blunt & Caroe, a firm of lawyers acting on behalf of BSES Rajdhani Power Limited and BSES Yamuna Power Limited (both part of BSES Ltd of the ADAG), served a notice of defamation on BCCL.
In their legal notice, BSES Limited are claiming that the stories ‘Delhi discoms inflated dues by Rs 8,000cr: CAG’, ‘Delhi govt representatives in discoms slammed’, ‘Discom audit: CAG points out conflict of interests in deals’ and ‘Discoms made money from meters, says CAG’ carried “False, fictitious and unacceptably offending claims, statements and inferences and conclusions” and the reporting was said to be “actuated by malice and per se defamatory”.
It also mentions that the access to the draft report is subjudice since an interim order dated January 24, 2014 passed by the Delhi High Court had stated that the final report of the CAG on the subject would not be submitted without the permission of the court.
The legal notice has been served on Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd., the owners of the ToI, Balraj Arora, publisher of the TOI, Arindam Sengupta, Executive Editor, TOI, and Josy Joseph, correspondent, TOI (He recently joined The Hindu).
In response to the legal notice, BCCL has pointed out that “In the said news reports, we have not taken unilateral views and have published your clients’ position qua the CAG report. We have specifically stated that “The companies have, however, denied the report and claimed that it is both incomplete and subjudice.”
In another instance, BCCL’s response goes on to say, “The report from a constitutional authority that enjoys the highest credibility not just in India but all over the world should be treated with deserving respect. The CAG is not India’s government auditor, but is also a member of the UN board of auditors. The CAG’s authority, competence and autonomy should and cannot be called to question for private interests.”
The reply adds, “There has not been any injunction, restriction or direction by any court of law on the publication of any article on the Delhi power distributor companies and imposing such a ban would be threatening the freedom of press and an assault on democracy. It is not legitimate to claim a right to privacy and confidentiality on the part of the distributor companies when larger public interest is involved. The articles carried by ToI are not personal opinions or allegations but reports based on information received by reliable sources.”