The 570-page book, which was released on 15 April, has been 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. The price increase would have benefited producers including RIL and state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd.
The Supreme Court is hearing public interest litigations (PILs) on the price increase.
Law firm Khaitan and Co. Llp, acting on behalf of RIL, served notice on the authors and the book’s distributor Feel Books Pvt. Ltd, and e-commerce websites Flipkart and Amazon that sold the book for being party to a “conspiracy” to defame RIL. A copy of the notice has been reviewed by Mint.
It called for a halt to further sales of the book, demanded that the copies in circulation be recalled and all existing copies be destroyed. The law firm, which referred to the book as a pamphlet, also sought an unconditional public apology from the authors and distributors “in the form and manner acceptable to our clients.”
Failing compliance with the demands, it threatened civil and\or criminal proceedings against the people mentioned in the notice, including Deepshikha Shankar, the event manager for the Foundation of Media Professionals, who had forwarded the e-invite for the book release function.
“It is very sad that she has got a notice. She only forwarded the mail to people on her mailing list in her personal capacity and on my request,” said Thakurta, a journalist.
In a statement, Thakurta said Gas Wars...had been “more than fair” to RIL and Ambani by quoting and providing their version of events, circumstances and controversies at “great length and depth”, including detailed interviews with senior RIL personnel such as B.K. Ganguly, president and chief operating officer (business operations explorations and production).
An RIL spokesperson confirmed that a legal notice had been served.
According to Thakurta, the authors of the book were exercising their fundamental right to free expression enshrined in the Constitution of India.
“The legal notice sent to the authors by RIL and Shri Mukesh D. Ambani is like an act of intimidation and harassment. The notice is being reviewed by our legal experts and an appropriate response is being provided as per the legal process,” Thakurta said in his statement.
Manas Saikia, managing director of Feel Books, said his lawyers were going through the papers and would prepare their response shortly.
“Four years of research has gone into this book. It was not written overnight. We have published the full Reliance story as well. I don’t know how it could have been more balanced,” said Saikia, adding that he was for freedom of publishing, which is increasingly under threat in India.
Mint journalist Tamal Bandyopadhyay’s book Sahara: The Untold Story attracted a lawsuit from the Sahara group, which secured a court order in December barring its publication. In January, Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd in January withdrew a book it published, The Descent of Air India, by former Air India Ltd executive Jitender Bhargava because it said several controversial things about Praful Patel’s days as aviation minister.
The legal notice served on behalf of RIL said: “The remarks and allegations made in the said pamphlet are false and have been deliberately and recklessly made with an intent to defame our clients and to bring them into disrepute.”
It added: “You have also used the tactic of quoting or referring to statements made by other people, in a blatant attempt at adding to the defamation of our clients... Further, the said pamphlet has also been widely circulated /sold on the Internet by you and the same has been accessed globally which has harmed the commercial interest and intellect of RIL, its management, partners, investors, vendors, and employees...”
Two other books have attracted controversy this month.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s former media adviser Sanjaya Baru’s book The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh has been slammed by the Congress party for alleging that Singh’s authority had been undermined by party president Sonia Gandhi.
Former coal secretary P.C. Parakh published his own memoirs, Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths, which said former coal minister Shibu Soren and minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao had scuttled Prime Minister Singh’s decision to allot coal blocks through competitive bidding.