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Defamation, not at the cost of gagging free speech

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The curtailment of an individual writer or author’s freedom of speech and expression should never be lightly viewed. Any person who feels that his good name is being tarnished is entitled to vindicate himself by filing for damages. But to gag the press is illogical.

Gag orders are rare. Ex-parte gag orders even rarer. Those that protect politicians raise eyebrows. Recently an Additional Senior Civil Judge in Ahmedabad granted an ex-parte injunction against ‘The Wire’, a website which recently published an article on Jay Shah’s sudden turn of fortunes in his business enterprises after the present government came to power. Though he is a private citizen, Jay Shah happens to be the son of BJP president Amit Shah.

Another private person, Baba Ramdev, whose close association with the BJP is no secret, also recently obtained an ex-parte injunction by the Karkardooma District Court in Delhi on the distribution and sale of a book ‘Godman to Tycoon: The untold story of Baba Ramdev’. In both cases, neither publisher nor author were given the opportunity to present their version in response to the allegations.

The Supreme Court has frequently frowned upon such orders being granted. Recently, the Court in a response to a petition seeking to ban a book by Professor Kancha Ilaiah titled ‘Samajika Smagglurlu Komatollu’, which is critical of the caste system, stated that any request for banning a book of this nature has to be strictly scrutinised because every author or writer has a fundamental right to speak out ideas freely and address thoughts adequately.

The curtailment of an individual writer or author’s freedom of speech and expression should never be lightly viewed. Any person who feels that his good name is being tarnished is entitled to vindicate himself by filing for damages. But to gag the press is illogical. It serves no purpose except seen as an attempt to throttle the voice of others. Can such an order prohibit the press from reporting proceedings in court on the same subject matter?

Reporting court proceedings can never be defamatory; so there can be no gag order in relation thereto. If that be so, such an order serves no purpose. When court proceedings are reported, the defence of ‘The Wire’ can be published by the website, thereby repeating the allegations. Besides, facts in themselves are occasionally bland, it’s when they are collated and interpreted that they come to life. The questions asked by ‘The Wire’ in the light of filings before the Registrar of Companies were legitimate in themselves, hardly justifying the ex-parte order of the court.

It may be possible, though it escapes credulity, that a company with limited business in 2015-16 saw its turnover spike to Rs 80 crores in 2016-17 and thereafter suffered losses and closed down in October: a saga which does raise questions. The press should not be gagged for asking legitimate questions. Maybe some courts in Ahmedabad are sensitive to issues of calumny and wish to protect reputations. The alacrity with which the injunction was sought and granted reflects a certain level of efficiency that is to be admired!

Free speech is an inalienable right, recognised in our Constitution as a fundamental right. Since no right is absolute, it is subject to certain reasonable restrictions: sovereignty, integrity of India, security of State, public order, decency, morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. So, the Constitution provides for a remedy in filing for both criminal and civil defamation as provided for in law. A gag order is no justification when seeking relief for defamation.

It may be possible, in certain extreme circumstances, for the court to order a gag on free speech for fear of inciting communal violence or if such speech were to jeopardise the security of State, say, a call for a revolt against the established order. In such circumstances gag orders seek to protect possible unwary, innocent victims of violence. ‘The Wire’ report against Jay Shah hardly fits into any of these exceptions. I have yet to see a court pass a gag order against abuse, fake videos intended to incite communal discord and violence.

The present political dispensation is particularly sensitive to any form of criticism. The BJP’s trolls in opposition to actor Vijay’s movie ‘Mersal’ criticising GST and Digital India, is a reflection of both the level of intolerance and paranoia that consumes it. With prime minister Narendra Modi’s popularity slipping, his bhakts will probably become insufferable. A tolerant India is being injected with venom jeopardising our civilisational values. If courts start protecting assaults on free speech there will be none else to turn to. Ex-parte injunctions of the kind seen in the case of Jay Shah are an aberration. Courts cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the law.

Jay Shah, I believe, has claimed Rs 100 crores for defaming him. If his claim succeeds the website will close down. If not, the intent of the claim was to intimidate those exercising their right to free speech. There is an inherent contradiction in making such a claim. The extent of damages sought suggests that Jay Shah is a public personality. But he distances himself from his father and claims that as a private person his business transactions should not be questioned.

The fact that several ministers publicly came to his defence, though uncalled for, suggests that he is a public personality because of his proximity to the powers that be. So is Baba Ramdev for the same reason. The favours, if any, granted by cooperative banks, or a public sector undertaking need to be questioned. The honest thing for him would be to do is to disclose his transactions for scrutiny. Otherwise the needle of suspicion will continue to haunt him.

The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister.

Courtesy: Article is published in The Indian Express dated 30th October 2017

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Arun Jaitley blames Auditors, Management for failing to detect PNB scam

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After five days,Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was quick to blame the PNB management and auditors for the Nirav Modi’s Rs. 11,300 crore fraud.It is pertinent to remind Jaitley that Dr Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister was charged for being responsible for the 1992 Harshad Mehta scam , therefore in the present context Finance Minister Jaitley cannot acquit himself of the eroding credibility of India’s banking system that has a direct cost on the country and the taxpayer and an indirect cost on borrowings and development as well.

Finance Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot absolve their constitutional and democratic responsibility for the enormous scale of the scam which has many dimensions including fake bank guarantees or letters of Understanding.

Firms associated with Nirav Modi got fake LoUs from the Punjab National Bank (PNB), which is distributed to other banks stationed overseas seeking credit.The fraudulent transactions worth Rs 11,400 crore by Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi has embarrassed the government that claims to provide scam-free governance.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to campaign in 2018 and 2019 elections on giving corrupt free government as massive scams are coming to light and government is assisting capitalists to run away with taxpayers’ money.

PM Modi’s silence is amazingly stunning as he is not at all worried about India’s economy,one of the country’s biggest bank frauds, security and other problems of the common man but is rather living in his own false world and brags of giving good governance , acche din and Mann ki Baat where he continues on giving one sided communication.

Modi has fielded Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Education Minister Prakash Javadekar  to defend the government and clean the blot that could not have taken place without “top leadership involvement”.

Modi should step down for the financial fraud as 293 letters of undertaking (LoU), many letters of credit (LC),
were issued during March, April and May 2017. Trying to hide failures of NDA government, the centre has sought the aid of seven agencies (Enforcement Directorate,Interpol,Central Bureau of Investigation,Income Tax department,
Central Vigilance Commission,Ministry of Corporate Affairs) both at home and abroad to investigate the entire scam
and investigators are conducting t searches at PNB branches and Nirav Modi’s properties.

Modi even claimed that his government had deregistered over 3 lakh dormant and shell companies listed with
the Registrar of Companies but How is it possible that the ministry of Corporate affairs failed to identify
the 200 shell companies of Nirav Modi and Choksi which the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement
Directorate found to have been used to invest the Rs 11,400 crore of fraudulently obtained money.

The Indian banking sector is already struggling under the weight of bad loansor the NPAs valued as high as $150bn.
and the government recently announced it would inject $32bn into the sector to help banks clean up their books,
but analysts have questioned whether the money is enough without reforming the banks themselves.The Bharatiya Janata Party is also diverting the attention by saying that the Nirav Modi scam occurred during UPA regime and trying to accuse the Opposition for their failure to detect scams.

 

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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Analysis

India’s Sri Lanka challenge

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there.

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70th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo

My wife and I recently visited Sri Lanka on a holiday with friends. For both of us, it was the first visit after almost 15 years. At that time, the idyllic island country was caught up in a deadly civil war that claimed countless lives and devastated the economy. When Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed power as the Sri Lankan President, he made the elimination of the Tamil Tigers his foremost objective. After 30 months of relentless assaults, the 26-year-old civil war finally ended in 2009, with the killing of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the ruthless decimation of his supporters.

It is argued that widespread human rights excesses occurred and that the Tamils were openly discriminated against. This is true. Yet, what is also true is that the island country finally saw peace for the very first time after decades of unrest, uncertainty and terrorism. The Sri Lanka we visited was in complete contrast with the one I had grown accustomed to, with gun-toting security personnel everywhere. Now there was a sense of calm. Even impatience, at being held back for so many years. It is as if it was time to claim the life that had been long denied.

For India, the end of the civil war and of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was good news. It had already declared the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but domestic compulsions — with its allies in Tamil Nadu openly aligning with Prabhakaran — forced New Delhi to opt for covert support for the anti-LTTE military operations. Tragically, with the end of the civil war, history repeated itself and India, once again, lost its momentum. Today, we are on the brink of losing Sri Lanka to Beijing.

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is not covert. Far from it. You see them everywhere and the pace of the activity is hectic. Chinese dredging ships can be openly seen working at a furious pace. Work on the Hanbantota port has started. Chinese workers are everywhere, from shopping malls to pubs. Many are learning to speak Sinhalese. Hotels, roads and infrastructure, performing arts theatres, a swanky cricket stadium are not simply projects on the drawing board. People can see them. The importance of the visual should never be underestimated. And given the speed with which the Chinese execute projects, a real estate transformation is credibly under way.

Over a period of 12 years (2005–17), Beijing has poured in $15 billion into projects in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Ambassador conveyed an unambiguous message to India, which sees Chinese presence in Sri Lanka as an intrusion in its immediate sphere of influence, when he said, “No negative force can undermine the cooperation between Sri Lanka and China.”

For India, this is a disturbing development. Indian foreign policy has relied heavily on “time-tested civilisational links”. While this is undoubtedly appealing, there is an aspirational impatience among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to with the scale, speed and imagination that only Beijing appears capable of.

It is common enough to hear Sri Lankans say how disgruntled and unhappy they are with the intrusive presence of the Chinese, who are loud and arrogant. It is like a deadly embrace but one that they find lucrative, if they wish to fast-track to a prosperous future. Artists impressions of future Colombo tell Sri Lankans that it will rival Singapore. It will bring in investments, tourism, employment and economic well-being. This can be seriously tempting.

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there. And Sri Lanka is under an understandable hypnotic trance. India genuinely faces its most serious security challenge.

If India is to get its act together, it needs not only imagination but the speed and efficiency to deliver on its promises to offer Sri Lankans a future that the civil war denied them. For Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, India’s neighbourhood will be a disturbing challenge. The problem he would face is convincing the political, bureaucratic and corporate partners that India faces its greatest-ever security threat and one that we are on the brink of losing.

As the legendary chess player Bobby Fisher once remarked, “If you are playing the game, you play to win. But if you’ve lost the game, it’s because you took your eyes off the pieces and then, you deserve to lose.”

By : Amit Dasgupta

(Amit Dasgupta is a former Indian diplomat. The article is in special arrangement with www.southasiamonitor.org)

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Netanyahu threatens ‘to act’ against Iran

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Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has warned  Iran saying he was ready to go to war if Tehran continued to entrench itself in Syria. Netanyahu addressed the Munich Security Conference which was attended by International leaders.

Directly addressing Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif and holding a piece of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel last week after it infiltrated its territory, Netanyahu during his speech said: “Do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed Israeli premier’s remarks and called them ‘a cartoonish circus.’

Equating Iran with Nazi Germany, Israeli PM drew many comparisons. “Let me be clear, Iran is not Nazi Germany,” he said. “There are many differences between the two,” he said, but, he noted, “there are also some striking similarities.”

He drew a parallel between the 1938 Munich Agreement, seen as a failed attempt to appease Nazi Germany, and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.”

The tensions between Israel and Syria escalated after an Iranian drone that crossed into Israeli airspace was shot down by the Israel Air Force on February 10.

Bolstered by the support US President Donald Trump, the prime minister reiterated he does not support a full Palestinian state, but a “state minus.” Netanyahu said the Palestinians should have self-rule, but not the “freedom to threaten our security.” Netanyahu indicated that he has been discussing legislation with the United States that would effectively annex settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Condemning the remarks, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation termed it as “land theft” with US complicity.While Israeli police recommended the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Accusing Tehran of seeking a permanent military foothold in Syria by supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in civil war entering its eighth year, Netanyahu said Israel could act against Iran itself — not just its allies — after border incidents in Syria brought the Middle East foes closer to direct confrontation.

Worried over the increase of Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Netanyahu stated that Israel would not allow Iran to establish military bases in Syria.

At a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of a major security conference in Munich, Netanyahu declared that the Golan Heights would “remain in Israel’s hands forever.”

The Syrian Golan Heights has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

 

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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