In its second legal notice dated 23 April to the authors and distributors of the book, law firm Khaitan and Co. has sought Rs100 crore “token damages within 10 days of the date of this notice”.
The 570-page book released on April 15 is written by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with Subir Ghosh and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri, and essentially deals with suspected irregularities in the pricing of natural gas.
The government decided last year to double the price of gas sold by domestic producers with effect from 1 April 2014—a move put on hold until after the completion of the general election in May on the orders of the Election Commission of India (EC). The price increase would have benefited producers including RIL and state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd (ONGC).
The Supreme Court is hearing public interest litigations (PILs) on the price increase.
In its second notice, reviewed by Mint, the law firm has demanded an unconditional public apology and withdrawal of the book. It has called for a halt to the sale, publication, distribution and circulation of the published copies of the book and its imprint online.
Acting on behalf of RIL, Khaitan and Co. said that its clients had received further information about the event held on April 15 “for the launch of the pamphlet titled Gas Wars—Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis”.
“The entire tone and tenor of the of the event was to harm the reputation, commercial interest, and intellectual character of Mr Mukesh Ambani, RIL, its management partners, investors, shareholders and employees...”, the notice said.
It also alleged that the lead author of the book had made defamatory and malicious comments at the launch event by quoting “utterly defamatory and mischievous statement by one Mr G K Gandhi (Gopalkrishna Gandhi) at the 15th D P Kohli Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on 15 April 2014...”
In his lecture Gandhi, a former West Bengal governor, referred to RIL as a “parallel state” and said he did not know of any other country where one single company exercised such power.
In response to the second legal notice from RIL, the authors reiterated an earlier statement and said the book had been “more than fair” in providing version of events, circumstances and controversies based on research done from various public documents, opinion of individuals available in public and media reports.
“The authors are exercising, being journalists, right to free expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India,” the statement said.
Both the notices by the law firm have been served on the authors, the book’s distributor Feel Books Pvt. Ltd, and the e-commerce websites Flipkart and Amazon that sold the book for being party to a “conspiracy” to defame RIL as well as Deepshikha Shankar, the event manager for the Foundation of Media Professionals, who had forwarded the e-invite for the book release function.
In an e-mailed reply to a question seeking confirmation of the second notice and its content, an RIL spokesperson evaded a direct reply, referring instead to a 17 April Mint story on the previous notice.
“Next, we have taken note the said notice and now this one has been reviewed by you already,” the reply said. “To state the obvious, neither of the Notices were shared with you by RIL. Can we therefore assume that the sharing and continued pollination if by one of the Respondents? Do you consider that to be fair?”
On 22 April, Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL) and Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Group and the younger brother of Mukesh Ambani, also served a legal notice on authors of the book for alleged defamation. The once-estranged brothers were involved in a dispute over the price of the gas extracted and supplied by RIL to RNRL.