SC notice to Tata Trusts’ ex-managing trustee in defamation case

SC notice to Tata Trusts’ ex-managing trustee in defamation case
New Delhi: This is “nothing but a corporate war”, said the Supreme Court on Thursday issuing a notice, seeking the response of R. Venkataramanan, former Managing Trustee of Tata Trusts, in connection with a defamation case filed against him by Shapoorji Pallonji Group.

The apex court bench was hearing Shapoorji Pallonji Group’s petition challenging a March order by the Bombay High Court that quashed Venkataramanan’s prosecution.

A Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate court had in October 2018 ordered for Venkataramanan’s prosecution based on a complaint filed by the Pallonji Group.

In September last year, the Pallonji Group had filed the complaint alleging that a press note issued by Venkataramanan on May 30, 2018 was defamatory as it contained “false”, “frivolous” and “baseless information” against the company.

In his prosecution order, the Metropolitan Magistrate stated that the allegation against Venkataramanan and his press note came within the ambit of defamation as per Section 499 explanations 2 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

However, the High Court opined to the contrary, and stated that the usage of words in the press release could not be considered defamatory.

The High Court observed that the words were “moderate and temperate”, and it doesn’t appear they “invite contempt, ridicule or hatred against the persons mentioned in the press note and much less the complainant.”

The Group’s petition to the top court contended that the High Court, without a trial, held that the statement was not defamatory, even though the statement caused irreparable damage to its reputation.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the Pallonji Group in the Supreme Court, argued that a strong case had been made out against Venkataramanan.

The bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, observed that the case against Venkataramanan appeared to be “nothing but a corporate war”, which has come to the court.

After hearing the initial arguments, the apex court decided to issue a notice, seeking a response from Venkataramanan.

Reportedly, Venkataramanan, in his response earlier to the complaint, had contended that a defamation complaint can be filed only by an aggrieved person and not by a company.