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Delhi HC judge recuses from hearing plea for damages claiming BBC documentary cast slur on India

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NEW DELHI, May 17: A judge of the Delhi High Court on Friday recused himself from hearing a plea by an NGO seeking damages from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 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.

Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani said he was recusing himself but did not assign any reason for it.

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The court said the petition be listed before another bench for hearing on May 22 subject to orders of the Acting Chief Justice.

The high court had earlier issued notice to BBC (UK) and BBC (India) on the plea filed by Gujarat-based NGO Justice On Trial.

The plea 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 broadcast 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”.

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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 Act, 1950, has filed the suit for damages.

The NGO has also filed an Indigent Person Application (IPA) which enables an indigent person to file a lawsuit.

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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.

The plea said for an order of damages, the relief is provisionally valued for the purposes of court fees at Rs 10,000 crore. 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 fee.

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 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. (PTI)





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