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The criminal defamation case filed by Nusli Wadia against Ratan Tata has reached the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice of India SA Bobde offering some advice to the two leading industrialists involved in the case.
The Bench Of CJI Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant took up the petition against the Bombay High Court's order for hearing today. During the hearing, however, CJI Bobde suggested that the matter be resolved between the parties and may not need litigation. CJI Bobde asked,
"You are leaders of the industry, why don't you both sit together and resolve the matter? Why pursue a litigation like this?"
Nusli Wadia had filed a criminal defamation suit against Tata Sons and its Directors in 2016 after being voted out of the group companies of Tata, of which he was a board member. Wadia was the senior most Director of three companies – Tata Steel, Tata Motors and Tata Chemicals.
On November 10, 2016, Tata Sons had sent a notice requisitioning a special extraordinary meeting. The said notice, it is alleged, contained false allegations and defamatory statements against Wadia.
Among the allegations were that Wadia was acting in concert with former Chairman of the Tata Group Cyrus Mistry, against the interests of the company. Further, it was alleged that Wadia had not been conducting himself independently, and that his actions put the future of Tata Steel Limited in jeopardy.
He thus filed a defamation suit under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, read with Sections 34 and 109.
In this regard, Senior Counsel Aryama Sundaram argued that the statements made in the notice requisitioning the special meeting and the subsequent leak of the same to the media was defamatory.
CJI Bobde, however, asked how the same constituted as defamation given that the Board moved against the persons they had grievances with in a legal manner. He asked,
"They had somne grievances and they can move against you ina legal way... they may be wrong or right, but proceeding against you based on those grievances, how is that defamation?"
Sundaram clarified that the criminak defamation action is not against the company for the resolution to remove Wadia from his position but against those who requisitioned the Special meeting and allegedly leaked the contents of the notice tyto the media. He added,
"One can't say that 'he has formed a cotorie', or 'he has failed to act in bona fide'... what happens to me and my reputation then?"
Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the Court that there was no intention to defame and the same argument was made before the Bombay High Court. He added that the High Court had given its findings in favour of Tata.
The Bench headed by CJI Bobde said that it has a view on the issue but went ahead to adjourn the matter till Monday, January 13th.
In December 2018, a Mumbai Court had issued notice to Ratan Tata and other Directors of Tata Sons in the defamation suit filed by Wadia.
This was appealed before the Bombay High Court, which in July 2019, set aside the order of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate. While doing so, the High Court observed that the ACMM's order was passed without application of mind and cannot be sustained.
Wadia then approached the Supreme Court in appeal.