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Court dismisses Jindal’s criminal defamation complaint against magazine

A Delhi court on Friday dismissed a defamation complaint filed by Congress MP Naveen Jindal`s firm Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) against The Sunday Indian magazine.



Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: A Delhi court on Friday dismissed a defamation complaint filed by Congress MP Naveen Jindal`s firm Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) against The Sunday Indian magazine.

The Sunday Indian had on November 4, 2012 and December 23, 2012 published two articles related to the coal blocks allocation scam. Following the publication of the articles, the JSPL had filed the defamation complaint against the magazine in Patiala House Court.

In its order, the court of Metropolitan Magistrate Gomti Manocha said, "The readers have a right to know regarding the entire controversy surrounding the allocation of coal blocks and the same cannot be scuttled by the courts… These articles do not contain anything damaging to the reputation of the complainant.”
“The court has to protect the media as they have a moral, legal and social duty to perform… if what is published is in public interest or public good and is based on factual report which though may be capable of being perceived differently by different individuals…", the court added.

"In the present case, whether the Ministry of Coal adhered to fair practices in allocation of coal blocks to companies or was guided by some other extraneous factors is a matter of public and national interest as the hard-earned money of the tax payers as well as valuable natural resources of the country are involved," Manocha said.

It said "readers have a right to know regarding the entire controversy surrounding the allocation of coal blocks and it "cannot be scuttled by the courts" as the media, being the fourth pillar of the Constitution, plays a vital role in forming public opinion or exposing corrupt practices.

Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) had filed a criminal defamation case against a media group, its editor-in-chief, editor and publisher claiming that they had published news items and defamed them by making "false, malicious and per se defamatory allegations".

Congress MP Naveen Jindal is the Chairman of JSPL.

In its complaint, JSPL said the CAG, in its report on coal blocks allocation, has mentioned about 57 blocks, out of which only four blocks were allotted to JSPL and its associate firms but the CAG "did not find anything against the complainant or its management including Naveen Jindal."

It claimed the media group published news articles containing "false statements" against them without any basis and did not seek any verification from it.

The court, while dismissing JSPL`s plea, said the articles published by the media group do not contain anything damaging to the reputation of the complainant and there was no intention to cause harm to their reputation.

"Now reverting to the articles at hand, the tone and tenor of the articles only convey general observations regarding a current topic of general/national interest. There is nothing contained in the said articles which is especially meant to damage the reputation of the complainant," the court said.

The magistrate said if all those persons who are facing any such probe by any agency and have certain reports published about them would be entitled to sue the media for such reportage, all the newspapers would come out as "mere blank sheets" and news channels would feature "mere white noise hence forth".

While referring to the CAG report, which was placed before it by JSPL, the court said it discloses JSPL was one of the "highest beneficiaries" and as per the report, the coal blocks allocation was not based on any set procedure of competitive bidding.

"Thus, as per the case of the complainant himself, fair practice of allotment of coal blocks has not been resorted to by the government/concerned ministry and some persons have been advantaged more than others without resorting to the fair procedure of competitive bidding. Thus, a procedure adopted itself smacks of illegality.

"Although, pronouncing a verdict on propriety or otherwise of the method used for coal block allocation by the government is beyond the purview of this court`s deliberation," it said.

It also said any action taken towards gagging the media would push the country "back to the colonial dark ages of closed doors and hushed up voices".

With PTI inputs

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