New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Monday issued fresh notice to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on a plea by an NGO seeking damages, claiming its documentary “India: The Modi Question” casts a slur on the country’s reputation and makes false and defamatory imputations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian judiciary.
Besides BBC (UK), Justice Sachin Datta also issued fresh notice to BBC (India) on the plea filed by Gujarat-based NGO Justice On Trial.
The counsel for the petitioner NGO informed the high court that notices were issued to BBC (UK) and BBC (India) earlier but they could not be served. Advocate Siddharth Sharma, representing the NGO, sought more time to serve the notices to the defendants.
“Issue fresh notice to the defendants through all permissible modes,” the high court ordered, and listed the matter for further hearing December 15.
It had May 22 issued notice to the defendants on the plea which has said BBC (UK) is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom and has released the news documentary — “India: The Modi Question” — which has two episodes and BBC (India) is its local operations office. It said the two episodes were published in January 2023.
The petitioner has sought damages of Rs 10,000 crore in favour of the NGO and against the defendants on account of the “loss of reputation and goodwill caused to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, the Government of India, the Government of the State of Gujarat as it was during the period of the Gujarat Riots, and also the people of India”.
The documentary relates to the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
The government had banned the documentary soon after it was released.
The plaintiff organisation, which says it is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and also registered as a Public trust under the provisions of the Bombay Public Trust, 1950, has filed the suit for damages and also sought permission to file as an indigent person.
It has contended that the documentary contains content which casts a slur on the reputation of the country and also makes false and defamatory imputations and insinuations against the Prime Minister of India, the Indian judiciary and the Indian criminal justice system.
The plea claimed the “disparaging and defamatory” statements of the defendant have caused grave and irreparable injury to the reputation of and denuded the goodwill that has been built by the Prime Minister of India, the Government of India, the Government of the State of Gujarat and also the people of India.
It said the conduct of the broadcaster is actionable and has made them liable to damages.
The NGO has filed an Indigent Person Application (IPA) which enables an indigent person to file a lawsuit.
The plea said for an order of damages, the relief is provisionally valued for the purposes of court fees at Rs 10,000 crore and the plaintiff has filed an application under Order 33 Rules 1 and 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) seeking permission to sue as an indigent person, since it does not have sufficient means to pay the court the fee prescribed by law.
Under the CPC, a plaintiff is obligated to deposit a certain amount as court fees.
Order 33 of the CPC deals with filing of suits by indigent persons. It says a person is an indigent person if he does not possess sufficient means to enable him to pay the fee prescribed by law for the plaint in such a suit.
The quantum of damages can be ascertained only after a fuller enquiry of the extent of damage caused. However, for the present the plaintiff values the damages at Rs 10,000 crore.
The Centre had earlier issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the BBC documentary, which was described by the Ministry of External Affairs as a “propaganda piece” that lacks objectivity and reflects a colonial mindset.