Bombay HC quashes prosecution order against ex-managing trustee of Tata Trusts in defamation case
In October 2018, the magistrate's court at Ballard Pier had issued the process of summoning Venkataramanan after the Shapoorji Pallonji group filed a criminal defamation case against him.
The Bombay High Court Wednesday quashed a prosecution order issued by a magistrate court here last year against the past managing trustee of Tata Trusts R Venkataramanan in a defamation case filed by the Shapoorji Pallonji group. In October 2018, the magistrate's court at Ballard Pier had issued the process of summoning Venkataramanan after the Shapoorji Pallonji group filed a criminal defamation case against him.
In the complaint, the Shapoorji Pallonji group, which owns 18.6 percent in the Tata group, had alleged that Venkataramanan had made some comments in a press note which were false and defamatory to the group.
In the said press note, Venkataramanan had stated that in his capacity as non-executive director of Air Asia India, he had been wrongly named as an accused by the CBI.
"It is commonly known that the present accusations qua AirAsia India find their root in baseless allegations made by Cyrus P Mistry (ex-Tata Sons chairman who was unceremoniously sacked on October 24, 2016) and the Shapoorji Pallonji group against Tata Trusts trustees (me included) and Tata Sons in his 'revenge' legal actions," Venkatramanan had said.
On Wednesday, a single bench of justice Mridula Bhatkar, however, held that there was nothing defamatory in the said press note, and quashed the process issued against Venkataramanan.
"I am of the view that the words which are used in the press note are not at all defamatory. They are moderate and temperate. They do not invite contempt, ridicule or hatred against the persons mentioned in the press note and much less the complainant," Bhatkar said.
"Certain statements, if found incorrect, can be corrected without labelling them defamatory," she said.
The low-cost carrier AirAsia India is a 51:49 percent joint venture between Tata Sons and Malaysian carrier AirAsia.
In an FIR registered on May 29, 2018, the CBI named Venkataramanan and other top executives of the AirAsia group, for allegedly entering into a criminal conspiracy with unknown public servants to alter the rules to get early overseas flying rights.
It can also be noted that Venkataramanan is still under the CBI probe and he had resigned from the Tata Trusts last month after the tax department sent notices to the charity over his inflated salaries and threatened to end its tax-breaks to the country's largest and oldest public charity.
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His association with the Tata Trusts, which owns 66 percent in the Tata group, ends on March 31.
Official Statement by Shapoorji Pallonji
"We are studying and evaluating the order passed by the honourable court. We are considering all available legal options and will be taking all appropriate legal steps to safeguard and protect our long-standing goodwill and reputation built over 150 years."
(This article has been updated to include the reaction of Shapoorji Pallonji group)