EPW Publisher Silent on Removal of Adani Article, Blames Editor for Exceeding Brief

Trustees say he acted unilaterally in replying to Adani legal notice; Guha Thakurta says they are not giving the ‘full picture’.

From left to right: Sameeksha Trust chairman Deepak Nayyar, former EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who resigned on Tuesday; and trustees Romila Thapar and Dipankar Gupta

New Delhi: In its first official statement since the resignation of Economic and Political Weekly editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta on July 18, the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the respected magazine, said his decision to get a lawyer to reply to a letter the Adani group had sent threatening legal action for an article published was “a grave impropriety amounting to a breach of trust”.

Adani’s legal notice was addressed to the Sameeksha Trust, Thakurta and his co-authors but “Mr Guha Thakurta initiated a legal process ostensibly on behalf of the Sameeksha Trust without informing, let alone obtaining approval of, the Trust although such a decision was not in the domain of the editor to make,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, the legal notice and the lawyer’s reply were put online alongside the article the Adanis wanted removed. “This reply and the legal notice were placed on the EPW website, even before the chairman and managing trustee were informed, so that the trustees were completely unaware of these developments,” the Sameeksha statement said, adding that the “legal reply (sent on the instruction of Guha Thakurta) falsely began with a statement that it was at the instruction of the Sameeksha Trust.”

A special meeting of the trust was then convened in New Delhi on July 18 to discuss the matter. “After discussion, it was conveyed to Mr Guha Thakurta that he had committed a grave impropriety amounting to a breach of trust, in taking a unilateral decision on a matter where any decision could be taken only by the Sameeksha Trust as the governing board. Thereupon, Mr Guha Thakurta submitted his resignation. It was accepted by the trustees after due deliberation,” the trust statement said.

The trustees who attended the July 18 meeting were Deepak Nayyar, who is chairman of the trust, the historian Romila Thapar, the sociologist Dipankar Gupta, managing trustee D.N. Ghosh, political scientist Rajeev Bhargava, and Shyam Menon, vice chancellor of Ambedkar University.

While the Sameeksha statement seeks to address speculation about the circumstances under which Thakurta resigned, it does not mention or refer to the trustees’ decision to take down the article that the Adani group’s lawyers had threatened legal action over.

The article dealt with allegations of government policy being tailored to benefit the corporate house, whose promoter, Gautam Adani, is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That article, and another with the Adanis have objected to, were republished by The Wire and are available here and here. The trustees have been widely criticised for their decision to remove the article ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’ from the EPW website.

Without explaining why they ordered the article removed from the EPW website – rather than merely the legal reply, whose drafting without consent is apparently what irked them – the trustees said in their statement that “there is no question of the Sameeksha Trust, an independent non-partisan institution, bowing to external pressures of any kind. It never has.”

“The EPW is a unique institution which has earned its reputation as an independent, impartial, journal over five decades, for publishing scholarly articles – research-based academic writing and evidence-based public policy critiques – and providing incisive analysis together with independent commentary on the issues of the time. These are its unique attributes,” they said. The Sameeksha Trust “is guided solely by the objectives of maintaining the ethos, quality and standards of EPW, while ensuring spotless propriety and ethics in the working of its staff.”

‘Not the full picture’ says Guha Thakurta

Reacting to the Sameeksha Trust statement, Guha Thakurta told PTI that the statement about the interaction that the trustees had with him on July 18 “does not give the full picture of what transpired” that day.

He said that he had acknowledged his “procedural lapse” of unilaterally taking the legal route, and had also apologised to the trust for the same.

“To set the record in context, I wish to state the interaction between the trustees and me went beyond what I consider a procedural lapse on my part in failing to seek the prior consent and approval of the trust before engaging the services of a lawyer to respond to a notice that were served upon me and my co-authors,” he said.

Speaking to The Wire, Guha Thakurta said that the trustees also told him that they did not want him to write signed articles in EPW, that they intended to appoint a co-editor and also set out in formal terms what the role and duties of the editor would be. “And they ordered that the Adani article be removed from the website immediately”.

Guha Thakurta reminded the trustees that a ‘legal notice’ is nothing but a letter from a lawyer and is not the same thing as a criminal case in court. “I also told them that I stand by the factual accuracy of every single sentence in the articles, that I have all the documents to back everything up and that it is a settled principle in any civil or criminal defamation case that truth is a valid defence.”

The trustees, however, were adamant that the article be taken down.

Thakurta informed the trustees of his decision to resign right away and asked whether he could be given a few days to vacate the editor’s flat in Mumbai. The trustees said he stay till the end of July and make his resignation with effect from that date but he chose to be relieved immediately.

Note: Though the legal letter from the Adanis attacked two articles written by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta et al, it asked for only the second, ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group’, to be taken down. In an earlier version of this article, it was incorrectly stated that the firm wanted both articles taken down. It is, in fact, only the one the Adanis demanded that was removed from the EPW site.

  • Amitabha Basu

    Objecting to the procedure adopted by the editor in replying to the Adani legal notice is one thing, but to take down the articles on Adani from the EPW website is something else … the trustees have disappointed the voices raised against the Adani-Ambani-crony capitalism that is rampant in India, to say the least.

    • Anjan Basu

      Yes, and in light of what seems to have transpired, the Trust’s statement ( “.. No question of Sammeksha Trust bowing to external pressure…”// ” The EPW is a unique institution that has earned its reputation….”, etc etc) sounds strangely self-righteous and hollow. No amount of ‘procedural impropriety’ should have warranted asking the Editor to take his articles down.

      • Amitabha Basu

        Absolutely right !

  • Amitabha Basu

    Further to my comments on the actions of the Sameeksha Trust trustees in pulling down articles on Adani from the EPW website, forbidding the editor Paranjoy Guhathakurta from writing articles under his byline, and laying down terms and conditions under which he could operate as editor :
    (1) The articles on Adani had appeared in Jan 2017 and June 2017. If the trustees did not approve of the articles, could they not have discussed with the editor earlier ? Why only now ? Obviously, they had not bothered to read the articles earlier, and now some (threatening?) circumstances have come up to force them to take action ?
    (2) There must be sub-editors or other editorial staff on the rolls of EPW. Did any of them raise objections to the Adani articles earlier ? If so, let them and/or the trustees clarify why they took the draconian step of taking down the articles from the EPW website only now ? Or does nobody bother to see what is being published until their own positions are threatened ?
    (3) The legal notices have to be responded to within a short time-frame. So the editor may have taken the initiative to send the reply on his own, for which he has pleaded guilty and apologised. Surely this is not such a grave misdemeanour ?
    (4) The duties, responsibilities and liberties of the editor are clearly laid down in the contract while appointing him/her. How come the trustees, who themselves appointed the editor, are now revising these terms and conditions and making them restrictive and compelling ? How can any self-respecting editor agree not to write under his/her byline and operate within the tight confines laid down by the trustees ?

    I do not know what the compelling circumstances were that led the trustees to take such draconian decisions. I had respected Prof. Deepak Nayyar who, as VC of Delhi University, had defended DU students against sedition charges and persuaded PM Rajiv Gandhi to drop these charges (quite unlike the puppet VC Jagadeesh Kumar of JNU and others of his ilk). I have read Dr. Dipankar Gupta’s articles and admired his broadminded, liberal and democratic outlook. And who has not read, heard and admired Prof. Romila Thapar for her excellent expositions on Indian history, the currently prevailing ‘nationalism’ and so many other issues of the day ? I still cannot believe that these prominent intellectuals and scholars could have been party to such actions. They personally owe the readers of EPW, and the entire journalistic, intellectual and democratic community of India and abroad, an explanation for this episode, if their credibility as defenders of freedom of speech, thought and writing is not to be severely dented.

  • The Wire

    We have a very small staff moderating comments, Mr Malve, and sometimes there are delays, especially over the weekends.