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Supreme Court grants interim protection to two more journalists for an article on Adani Group

The crime branch, Ahmedabad issued summons to the journalists associated with Financial Times for an article not authored by them

ON Friday, the Supreme Court granted interim protection from arrest to two more journalists, Benjamin Nicholas Brooke Parkin and Chloe Nina Cornish, concerning an article on the Adani Group in the Financial Times.

A division Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra, was hearing writ petitions filed by the journalists challenging the notice of summons issued by the crime branch, Ahmedabad.

The international media organisation, Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), first published the article in August this year. It was subsequently carried by the Financial Times. The article details the source of funds used to purchase shares in the Adani conglomerate of companies.

The article followed the report released by investment research firm Hindenburg Research on the Adani Group on January 24 this year, which alleged that the demand for Adani’s shares was artificially inflated, creating a surge in its prices.

On November 3, the Supreme Court granted interim relief from arrest to two journalists, Ravi Nair and Anand Mangnale, for writing an article on Adani Group’s source of funds on OCCRP’s web portal.

Senior advocate, Indira Jaising, appearing on behalf of Nair and Mangnale, had argued that the summons by the crime branch, requiring the duo’s presence, are in the nature of “harassment and a prelude to a possible arrest”, and violate Article 21 of the Constitution.

Today, advocate Siddharth Agarwal, appearing for Parkin and Cornish, informed the court that the crime branch in Ahmedabad issued a notice, summoning the Financial Times journalists to appear before it within seven days.

The notice was issued for a “preliminary inquiry” based on an application by Yogeshbhai Mafatlal Bhansali, an investor, for a “grossly malicious” and “false” article, Agarwal stated.

Agarwal stressed that the two journalists were not even tagged as authors in the article published by the Financial Times.

When Justice Gavai asked for the petitioners to join the preliminary inquiry, Agarwal stated that the complaint to the Gujarat police amounts only to the offence of defamation which is non-cognisable in nature.

According to Agarwal, the complaint does not fall within the contours of the judgment of Lalita Kumari versus Government of U.P. and Ors. (2013) to merit a preliminary inquiry. In the case of Lalita Kumari, the Supreme Court held that the police cannot conduct a preliminary inquiry before registering a first information report (FIR).

In the present matter, no information of an FIR against the journalists is available with the police officer and no investigation has commenced, Agarwal explained.

Agarwal contended that the notice lacks the authority under Section 160 (police officer’s power to require the attendance of witnesses), Section 41A (notice of appearance before police officer) and Section 91 (summons to produce document or other thing) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to summon persons situated in other states.

Since the journalists reside in Mumbai and Delhi, the Gujarat police do not have the authority in law to require the personal presence of the journalists who reside across the state border, Agarwal said.

Subsequently, the Bench issued notice returnable on December 1, and directed no coercive steps be taken against them until the next date of hearing.

The Bench, however, clarified that the petitioners must cooperate with the inquiry. 

The Leaflet