In February 2012 when a CBI trial court dismissed a petition of Subramaniam Swamy, seeking naming P. Chidambaram in the 2G case, the greatest tears of joy weren’t from the Congress party but from quite a few in the media. Some of those reporting from the court were jumping in joy over the relief for PC. There is a perception that PC is a darling of NDTV and it is in that context that some recent developments concerning the channel’s financial dealings are in public discussion again. Manushi, a trust run by social activist Madhu Kishwar, and she have been issued a legal notice for defamation by NDTV.
The notice for defamation started over an article published by Manushi titled “NDTV & Chidambaram Accused of Money Laundering Scam of Rs. 5500 cr”. The article also linked a Youtube video (which appears in the name of ManushiIndia) which has an IT Commissioner SK Srivastava narrating his thwarted battle in this alleged scam. This has been making the rounds for quite some time. The main contention of NDTV’s legal notice is that the article is based on bogus sources and in their own words: “Mr. Srivastava's charges are nothing new. These are completely bogus and laughably false claims that Mr. Srivastava and his associates have been making for years, which have repeatedly been dismissed by every authority who has examined them. That is the reason that no rational journalist has ever published these accusations in the past few years”. Alright, that part by NDTV is true that Srivastava’s claims have been dismissed and no journalist has ever published these accusations. The funny part is media houses and journalists don’t publish scams about their own “Hammam” even when there is reason to do so. What NDTV claims is also from old proceedings but don’t take into account latest developments in the case.
The latest discussions on these allegations started with Ram Jethmalani writing a letter to PC on December 6, 2013 (which is much after the dismissals of cases being mentioned by NDTV). What RamJ states makes stunning reading. Here’s a pic of part of the contents:
It is evident RamJ minces no words and directly accuses PC and his son being owners of the money allegedly laundered by NDTV. This is not the first time RamJ has accused PC in black-money related issues. Sometime back he wrote in the Sunday Guardian a stinging article titled “Friend, father & philosopher of black money is Chidambaram”. So S. Gurumurthy, a BJP finance specialist and freelance journalist, picks up RamJ’s notes and has a chat with Prannoy Roy who then sends a detailed reply to Gurumurthy on the queries. Obviously, SG isn’t happy with some parts of the reply so he writes back with more stinging observations. Let’s read some edited excerpts from SG’s mail:
There are two aspects to this issue. First, I never said that when Sumana Sen became the AO you hired her husband Abhisar Sharma. I had said she was the AO when Abhisar Sharma was your employee – which disqualified her from assessing the NDTV. Next she did make an assessment and give NDTV a refund of Rs 1.47 cr – which assessment was done illegally under Sec 143(1) which ought not to have been done when a notice for that assessment u/s 143(2) was pending. So you have not been properly briefed by whosoever gave you the facts. In fact from the manner of your response, your knowledge of the facts regarding Sharma-Sen seems to be very limited. Here are the correct facts.
In the links provided you will find that the IT Commissioner SK Srivastava whose investigations are under discussion by Manushi was also accused of sexually harassing this particular lady, Sumana Sen and one of her colleagues.
Even NDTV with all its posturing of moral high ground never informed the Govt./Income Tax Deptt. about that and kept silent about the fact that the wife of its employee (Sri Abhisar Sharma) had become the Assessing Officer of NDTV, all its group companies and all its Directors including you under all the Direct Tax Acts. Even more importantly, in March 2005, five months after she became its assessing officer and all its group companies and all its Directors including you, NDTV offered through Abhisar Sharma European tour at its cost to Sumana Sen – a luxury which, the Income tax deparment has found, was not offered to any other employee of his grade.
After accepting the NDTV offer to foot her holiday travel to Europe by concealing the fact that she was the assessing officer, on March 28, 2005, Sumana Sen passed assessment order u/s 143 (1) of the Income Tax Act accepting the return of NDTV and granting a refund of Rs 1.47 crore. This was completely an illegal order as when this was order was made, there was already a notice issued u/s 143(2) of the Act and pending against NDTV for scrutiny assessment. The law declared by the Supreme Court is that when such a notice is pending no assessment u/s 143(1) can be made.
Ten days after Sumana Sen had made the assessment on NDTV u/s 143(1) and granted the illegal refund of Rs 1.47, on April 8, 2005, the government granted permission to her to avail of the benefit of travel to Europe, but prohibiting her from accepting it, if at any point of time she had any official dealings, either in the present or in the past with NDTV.
Despite being the assessing officer of NDTV and its associates and having passed order illegally refunding Rs 1.47 cr to NDTV on March 28, 2005, just 13 days before, on 10.04.2005 Sumana Sen gave a false and fraudulent undertaking that she was not the Assessing Officer of NDTV Ltd., has never dealt with the case of NDTV and has never had any official dealings with it.
The other parts concern funds raised by NDTV here, there and everywhere with their 21 subsidiary companies. You know, like “Chota mota” funds. There is another site (Mumbaiwalla) that details this recognition of Abhisar Sharma’s excellent work as a TV anchor for which he was rewarded by NDTV with a luxury trip to Europe. You have to believe NDTV that this grand trip for Abhisar Sharma had nothing to do with his wife, Sumana Sen, being the IT officer assessing NDTV’s returns and accounts. Sharma could have well been the “performer of the year” at the channel. Maybe NDTV should just a release a list of all its employees that were given such luxury trips as rewards. That brings us to the important question why NDTV chose only Manushi/Madhu Kishwar for legal action for defamation.
For a start, this isn’t the first time NDTV has been in the news for bad financial dealings or IT related bungling. Besides the articles linked here there was also a report by Sunday Guardian on “NDTV loan chicanery”. From Radiagate to financial scandals, NDTV makes more news on these than any other achievements. The reason for legal action against Madhu Kishwar seems to be basically to make her a “bakra” so that others get the message loud and clear: “don’t mess with us”. Even otherwise NDTV has always been trigger-happy in such actions, be it TAM ratings or a stray blogger on “shoddy journalism”. The reason to act against Manushi is that it will cause the latter some stress in legal expenses if the case goes any further. This won’t work with RamJ given he’s a tough lawyer himself and won’t have to buy legal expertise. The other reason is RamJ has written a letter to the finance minister on NDTV’s scams and not made any public disclosure. Although his letter has been leaked or released to the public it doesn’t make a case for defamation. Kishwar’s case is different in that she not only put out the information directly into public domain (including a video) and is not a private letter to someone seeking an investigation.
It is, however, an undeniable fact that Madhu Kishwar has only put out information that was already in the public domain with additional claims of documents received by her. People were tweeting about the allegations against NDTV under the hashtag #PCWedsNDTV. So NDTV may hope that with their legal threat the talk on social media may dissipate and these allegations can fade. So, for NDTV to claim that only Kishwar’s article defamed them is nothing but spite. Naturally, the English “Hammam” gave a pass to the charges made by RamJ against both NDTV and PC. But it seems to have appeared in some Hindi papers as this tweet indicates (I have erased the Twitter handles):
I’m sure the Hindi paper didn’t bother to check with NDTV either as they have demanded of Madhu Kishwar. It has merely reported an exchange. If one goes through RamJ’s letter it will be clear that SK Srivastava has gone through and is still facing a lot of cases for doing his job. Given that NDTV is friendly with the current govt in charge at the centre the frequent allegations against them is not being investigated thoroughly. Each time these come up, the folks at NDTV claim they are “Saints” and are divinely free of any guilt. Either that or it’s a mere ‘error of judgement’. It will take a new govt, if it is courageous enough, to investigate and prosecute the many misdeeds of the MSM.