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No beating about the bush.
A day after its launch in New Delhi, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has served a notice on the authors of "Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis" as well as his co authors and distributors and even an individual from a media foundation who sent out invites to the launch function.
A day after its launch on Tuesday April 18th in New Delhi, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has served a notice on Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, lead author of "Gas Wars - Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis" as well as his co authors and distributors and even an individual from a media foundation who sent out invites to the launch function.
Mr Guha Thakurta and his co-authors Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri have been accused of defaming RIL and its chairman Mukesh Ambani in the book, which chronicles the rise of the Ambanis through their quest for control over gas from the Godavari basin.
There are several interesting elements to this notice starting with the fact that the book has been self-published by the author, precisely in anticipation of such an action.
In the recent past, two books – Descent of Air India by Jitender Bhargava and another on the Sahara group were withdrawn by their publishers who succumbed to the pressure of defamation notices. Mr Guha Thakurta had the help of Authors Upfront in the editing and production of the book and an independent distributor -- Feel Books Pvt Ltd for distribution. They have been served notices too, along with global e-book distributors Flipkart and Amazon. All have been accused of a "common conspiracy" to defame Reliance for "personal gains".
Ironically, in the past few months, the Ambanis have been repeated attached by Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Admi Party on all television channels (including the TV-18 group which is owned and controlled by the Ambanis) without attracting legal action from Reliance. This, despite the fact that the reach of main stream media, especially television channels, is significantly greater and pithy defamatory statements do far more damage than a detailed, well-researched book, which the company refers to as a “pamphlet”.
The notice has asked for a recall and destruction of book already sold, stoppage of further sales, and an "unconditional public apology". It has threatened "civil and/or criminal proceedings" in case of failure to comply.
The defamation notice is also curious for the following reasons. First, Gas Wars extensively quotes Reliance’s senior officials on all major charges. Secondly, it has collated large chunks of previously published work by journalists across the media spectrum, which did not attract charges of defamation when they were published. Thirdly, it has detailed segments on charges leveled by Anil Ambani during the bitter and truly nasty legal battles that were fought in the media and in court. Fourthly, there are charges leveled in cases that are even now filed in court by a set of former bureaucrats. Fifthly, the book includes and puts in perspective a damning report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) on hydrocarbon production sharing contracts, which indicated that Reliance had reaped massive profits because of various acts of commission and omission by various government officials. Any charge of defamation would probably have to explain what is new and defamatory after eliminating all that is previously published without similar action.
Reacting to the notice, Mr Guha Thakurta and his co-authors have issued the following statement:
1. The book ‘GAS WARS’ has been "more than fair" providing version of events, circumstances and controversies based on research made from various public documents, opinion of individuals available in public and media reports.
2. The authors are exercising, being journalists, right to free expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
3. This communication is without prejudice to the author, rights and privileges as per law. The notice is being reviewed by our legal experts and an appropriate response will be provided as per the legal process.