How the Sahara Group fought to prevent a book about its business being published

On 30 November a desperate Sahara went knocking at the doorways of the perfect court, pleading formore time to refund its investors. The apex court docket had already upheld a SAT directive ordering refund of Rs 24,029 crore to 29.6 million investors. Sahara had been driven right into a nook in the end, and itbecome in all likelihood time for writing a ebook at the organization.

(Tamal) Bandopadhyay, who were toying with the concept for a while, now determined to go the wholehog. In January 2013, he landed at Sahara Shaher – the township that’s domestic to the institution on thebanks of the Gomti river in Lucknow – to interview Subrata Roy, or even attended Roy’s extravagant 39thwedding ceremony anniversary celebrations. The interview itself become exhaustive, candid. “From there, the mission took off. I deliberate it nicely and could whole it in about six months’ excessive paintingsand massive journey throughout India. Of direction, I ought to whole it in a tremendously short time as i was extremely acquainted with the challenge,” recalled Bandopadhyay.

The challenge of Sahara needed a large canvas – as that of a e-book, instead of a chain of articles at theemployer and its doings and alleged misdoings. Bandopadhyay explained, “As a journalist, forapproximately a decade, I were following Sahara India Pariwar which had four,799 establishments andorganizations underneath sixteen verticals and claimed to be the second biggest employer in thecountry after the Indian Railways. handiest 4 organizations in the group have been indexed (at leastone of them were given delisted later). India’s biggest shadow financial institution within the shape of a RNBC became beneath the Sahara fold until the RBI compelled its closure.

“The glitz and glamour associated with the institution boss Subrata Roy and the mystery that shrouded itsenterprise constantly fascinated me as a journalist. i was curious to know how Roy arbitraged betweenBharat and India – the 2 nations, one complete of poverty and other glamour, cricket, Bollywood, patriotism.humans in Bharat looked at him in awe because of his proximity to cricketers and movie stars. That’s how he constructed agree with. It was a captivating tale.” This changed into the story that Bandopadhyaydesired to inform his readers.

The e-book on Sahara become to be an strive at unravelling the thriller. “I had written quite a few lengthyform portions in Mint and in my in advance paper, business popular, however in case you need to create an effect, a ebook is constantly a better vehicle. also, a typical Indian newspaper can notprobably come up with the money for the time and resources one requires to investigate such sort ofsubjects. I travelled considerably across India to meet individuals who have been related to theinstitution in some shape and other, besides regulators and courts in distinctive Indian states to get keepof documents. Affidavits and petitions led in courts are constantly an genuine supply of information,” the journalist recollected.

Open mystery

That Bandopadhyay become working on a e-book on Sahara and Subrata Roy turned into no secret.someday in October-November 2013, he became invited to talk about the e book at a literary pageant at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. though the e-book become no longer yet ready, the commercial enterprise these days editor, who was present on the competition, asked for a bankruptcy which themagazine may want to submit. They had been handed over one.

It is not clean whether or not after analyzing the bankruptcy that the Sahara organization requested fora replica of the but-to-be-posted e-book, or the publisher volunteered to ship a copy of the e-book to Sahara for eyeballing before its formal launch. The fact remained that the group got preserve of a replicaof the manuscript and rushed to slap a Rs 2 hundred-crore defamation suit in opposition to the writer andwriter at Calcutta high court docket. On 10 December 2013, the excessive court docket granted theorganization’s plea for a stay on the discharge of Sahara: The Untold tale, and the court docketprolonged that period in-between order on 23 December until in addition orders. The group also made Jaico Publishing residence, the publisher of the ebook, a party to the fit.

It become a classic case of pleading for prior restraint along the traces of the action against The Polyester Prince. In its 10 December order, the singlejudge bench referred to one passage that had been cited bySahara’s suggest:

greater such extremely good memories abound approximately Sahara, none that would be substantiated.a collection worker in Mumbai requested me whether or not I had seen the “torture chamber” in Sahara Shaher. What’s that, I requested. The chamber, seemingly, is where an erring worker is dumped at night time in his undies and subjected to physical abuse and humiliations with the aid of his subordinates,together with his driver and guards if he’s of high workplace. Sahara does this to disgrace a rogueemployee and smash his self-recognize and dignity, the institution employee said. A communiquegovernment at Sahara laughed after I checked with him approximately the authenticity of the torture chamber.

The judge went directly to rule:

Prima facie, the impugned substances do show the plaintiffs in negative mild. since the book or anyelectronic shape of the fabric has not been published as but, the balance of comfort lies in restraining itsbook till the prima facie case is greater absolutely introduced out in the presence of the defendants.

Bandopadhyay by no means obtained the attention himself as it turned into served at the office of HT Media (which owned Mint) in Kolkata. “It turned into on 12 December 2013 that my publisher Jaico told meabout the improvement. I met a fearful Akash (Shah), my writer, that nighttime at a resort in lower Parel, Mumbai. I persuaded him no longer to returned out and combat it out in court docket as I should assistwith documentary proof every word of the book. pretty some law companies in Mumbai and Kolkata wereinclined to combat for me inside the courts. I selected Fox & Mondal which worked for me pro bono. Akash employed a separate law firm.”

on the first actual listening to at a trial court docket before the Christmas holiday, the judge informedmy lawyer to put in Rs 200 crore in an escrow account if we desired to go in advance with the ebook of the e-book. those had been tough days. I did now not should spend something as criminal fees butneeded to rush to Kolkata frequently to meet my law company and prepare my legal professional for the case. Mint stood with the aid of me, liberating me from my each day chores in workplace. My wife and sonhave been pillars of aid.”

beyond the trial court, Bandopadhyay moved a twodecide divisional bench of Calcutta high courtroom atthe recommendation of his law company and additionally began planning to in the end circulate theideal court with a special go away petition (SLP).

Rearguard movement

The aggression that Sahara showed inside the case of the e-book belied the face-saving courageous the front that it was frantically trying to placed on within the splendid courtroom, which had in November 2013 positioned restrictions on the group’s sale of transportable and immoveable property andadditionally barred Roy from leaving the u . s .. In January 2014, the apex court docket directed the Saharainstitution to reveal the supply of the Rs 22,885 crore that were paid to OFCD investors. It warned Sahara of inquiries by means of the relevant Bureau of research (CBI) and the Registrar of groups if it failed to show the source.

as the media – each international and in India – started notably reporting on my case, the groupprobably idea it become now not smart to fight on so many fronts. A feeler became despatched to me fordiscussion. I agreed to speak about and circulate beforehand. We had rounds of discussion at Saharasuperstar resort near the home airport in Mumbai. The meetings lasted for lengthy hours, at instancesfrom afternoon until early morning of tomorrow. considering the fact that i used to be not inclined to drop things from the ebook that the group desired me to do, a compromise became reached wherein thewriter would deliver the disclaimer which says the e book is ‘defamatory’ and also provided theorganization’s factor of view,” Bandopadhyay stated.

but due to the fact that Sahara had a history of dragging each person to courtroom – from the RBI to SEBI, honestly Bandopadhyay expected them to confront him the equal prison way? “no longer in reality.i used to be no longer prepared for felony action, even though my writer was very nervous. Thepublisher consulted a legal firm, were given the manuscript study again and again once more, and askedme many questions to check whether I ought to stand by way of what I had written and whether thosewould maintain good in a court of regulation. Following the queries by means of felony experts, I tweaked the manuscript wherever it become wanted and saved all documentary proof in my ownership toassist my thesis,” he replied.

anyways, the mission changed into not guerrilla warfare, i.e. journalistic attack via stealth. “I took Roy and his institution in self belief right from the beginning. I had spent two days with him in January 2013 in Sahara Shaher, Lucknow, and played again an hour-lengthy interview. Roy’s workplace were given backto me with clarifications which I accommodated. I also accessed some photographs from the group’s archive. All were done transparently with an express expertise that i was running on a e-book ventureexcept a long form tale for Mint. however, I by no means showed the manuscript (to Roy/Sahara). To behonest to the group, it did not ask for it either. possibly, Roy anticipated something else and my remedydissatisfied him.”

The negotiations may want to have well reminded Bandopadhyay of the various parleys that he had himself reconstructed in his book. one of the maximum riveting became the quick-paced account approximatelythe 2 conferences with RBI officers that eventually brought the Sahara India Pariwar down directly to its knees. other than the outline of the roller-coaster ride that had passed off behind the scenes, what alsocame out from the tale turned into how ambitious the Sahara oldsters were – they had been no meek pushovers. The RBI team, represented by using its toughest members, had to use each mobile of theirbrains to hem within the Sahara officers.

And here changed into Bandopadhyay scuffling with the identical firm and its unyielding squad of negotiators on his personal. “indeed there was stress on me to drop many references, alternate things,and so on, however i would no longer name it (the negotiations) antagonistic. The meetings were long, and out of sheer fatigue one could have agreed to things which they had been suggesting. An outsidecommunications business enterprise became doing the mediation. Sahara became represented through its communications department, sponsored through the felony mobile. there has been no person gift from the legal cellular on the meetings, but it become consulted substantially over smartphone. i was on my own on the dialogue desk. there has been a regular ow of food, smooth beverages and we even had beer inside the nighttime as soon as.”

Bandopadhyay also met Roy twice at his Mumbai officeonce before the negotiations started out, andanother time after they had been near attaining an settlement. On the second one event, he hosted dinner for the writer. “He was polite and nice to me; there was no hostility.”

Roy’s problems

other traits were taking region in parallel. whilst the Sahara India Pariwar had taken at the RBI and SEBI, it had continuously thumbed its nose at the two regulators and regarded undaunted through theircriminal/constitutional repute. it might problem rhetorical complete-paged classified ads in newspapers and keep on with its commercial enterprise as usual. Roy and his group met their eventual Waterloo once they carried on with their irreverence a bit too a ways – with the perfect court docket. On 20 February 2014, the courtroom ordered Roy to be for my part present in courtroom six days later over the failure of his organization companies to return cash to the holders of OFCDs. Roy did now not seem, mentioninghis mom’s infection, prompting the courtroom to issue a non-bailable warrant.

What the court said on 26 February 2014 changed into good sized. brushing off the suggest’s request for excusing Roy from in my view performing before the court in view of his mother’s illness, the bench of justices KS Radhakrishnan and JS Khehar remarked, “since, we’ve got already declined to grant exemption from personal presence of alleged contemnor no. 5 (Roy) on 25 February, we discover no motive to accede to the renewal of the request made these days.”

The judges additionally referred to that the medical certificates produced as proof to show his mom’sfitness situation was issued, of all institutions, by way of the Sahara sanatorium in Lucknow. “In our view, the actual function indicated therein does now not solicit the exemption sought. The hands of thiscourtroom are very long. we can get him right here if he does no longer want to return on his very own. Ifother directors can come, why can’t he? the day past handiest we had refused your plea for exemption from non-public look. All that is happening for remaining years. we’re issuing non-bailable warrant now,” the judges said.

Roy was arrested in Lucknow days later after he surrendered to the police, and became stored in police custody. The best courtroom on 4 March sent Roy and different administrators of the Sahara India Pariwar to Tihar jail after he didn’t persuade the judges about his proposals to refund investors. [At the time of this book going to the press, Roy was still in jail.] In April 2014, Sahara withdrew its defamation healthy in opposition to Bandopadhyay and Jaico after, what become defined as, “an amicable agreement.”

An notable disclaimer

The e book turned into launched in may additionally 2014, and carried both on the again cover and thefrontinterior flap, apart from an insertion that preceded the willpower page, a assertion from the Sahara India Pariwar.

The disclaimer went:

The book Sahara: The Untold story, written by using Shri Tamal Bandopadhyay, is primarily based on a particular perception, incorrect perceptions supported by means of confined and skewed facts.subsequently, it does now not replicate the real and whole photograph.

The book portrays Sahara in awful mild by using attributing unfound statistics and incidents to which we’ve got objections.

The e-book also overlooks, or on the nice simply glances over, the contributions made with the aid ofSahara India Pariwar with the aid of financially including the poor and rural India, and inculcating in them the addiction of saving, for that reason paving the road of development on the one hand and safeguarding them from the clutches of cash creditors and loans on the other.

It persevered:

This ebook on Sahara does not explain the truth of the way Sahara in its journey of 37 years has end upcertainly one of the most important conglomerates of the country just because of the stout businessethics, nice business practices and years of relentless services to its clients and depositors, which has generated faith amongst crores of our depositors, buyers and customers across the country.

The e book also forgets to deal with this center constituent of the tale of Sahara India Pariwar, about whomabsolutely everyone talks however does no longer challenge to know – the very poor depositors who’vereligion in us and whose difficult-earned earnings Sahara is a loyal custodian of, for such a lot of years.

The book at quality can be handled as a attitude of the writer with all its defamatory content, insinuation and different objections, which precipitated us to exercise our proper to method the courtroom of law so as to keep the interest of the business enterprise and its crores of depositors and 12 lakh employees.

And ended, satirically, wishing Bandopadhyay the very first-class:

we are sure that the readers are wise enough to look thru the maze of plots and recognize the values that we stand for and the sports we adopt for nation building.

We also desire the author fulfillment, although we don’t accept as true with among the matters and theway they have been offered within the e-book.

This was possibly the primary time that a e book have been published that protected any suchdisavowing disclaimer from the concern to hand. So, did it damage the credibility of the writer? Did the “compromise” work out better for the Sahara India Pariwar than it had for the journalist who had undertaken such painstaking research?

A announcement issued by using the organization asserted, “in line with the satisfactory traditions of Sahara and as a gesture of our respect for a journalist’s freedom, we had withdrawn our case towards thepublication of the ebook. however we have recommend our objections and reservations inside the formof a disclaimer in the ebook and we are certain that the readers are sensible enough to see through the maze of plots and appreciate the values that we stand for and the activities we undertake for the sake ofnation constructing.”

Bandopadhyay become extra forthright: “I assume this might be the primary instance in Indian publishingrecords of the usage of one of these disclaimer. The selection to show it prominently changed into mypublisher’s to get publicity for the ebook. I bet this generates interest, curiosity amongst readers. To thatextent, it has helped the e book sell more. i have visible at airport bookstalls people buying the ebookafter analyzing the disclaimer. Has it helped the group to give an explanation for its factor of view? I don’tunderstand the answer.”

quite a few records about each Roy and Sahara have been already within the public area whilst Sahara: The Untold tale was published. What Bandopadhyay had delivered have been at the back of-the-scenesinfo, and a contextualisation of the complex difficulty of RNBCs.

“With honesty and sincerity, I attempted to reveal the mystery that shrouded the group thru painstakingresearch. Has any newspaper or magazine ever suggested what transpired at the meetings that the RBI held at its headquarters with Roy inside the run-up to the clamp down on his RNBC? The e book says all that, with picture info, as though I have been gift at the ones meetings.

“It also offers an insider angle of Sahara’s fight with marketplace regulator SEBI. these are handiest twoexamples. The e book is filled with many incidents and anecdotes that have been no longer there inside the public domain. Have I been able to perform what I aspired for? likely not. however the ebook has raised many pertinent questions and created a context for destiny studies on the Sahara organization.”

Excerpted with permission from Sue The Messenger: How felony Harassment by way of Corporates Is Shackling Reportage and Undermining Democracy in India, Subir Ghosh with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Paranjoy (Authors in advance).