A Mumbai court on Tuesday admitted a criminal defamation complaint filed by R Venkataramanan, the managing trustee of the Tata Trusts, against ousted Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, his brother Shapoorji Mistry and other directors of Cyrus Investments and Sterling Investments, seeking Rs 500 crore in damages and an unconditional apology. Earlier, Venkataramanan had accused Cyrus Mistry and others of making false statements against him and damaging his reputation. According to legal experts, Cyrus Mistry, Shapoorji Mistry and other directors of his companies will now have to appear before the court and execute bail bonds. Thereafter charges will be framed against them to face prosecution under sections 500 and 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code. The next date of hearing on the matter is August 24 when Mistry and the other directors will have to appear personally before the court.
The court upheld the arguments of Venkataramanan’s counsel Parvez Memon that Article 21 of the Constitution protecting a citizen’s right to life is inclusive of the right to live with dignity, and that all are equal in the eyes of the law under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Mistry and his family firms have around 18.4% stake in Tata Sons and are likely to appeal in the high court against the lower court’s order.
Tuesday’s development comes at a time when the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal is hearing the arguments on the spat between Cyrus Mistry and Tata Sons over the former’s ouster as Tata Sons chairman in October last year.
Venkataramanan’s lawyer argued that while Cyrus Mistry is a man with substantial wealth and substantial might, the value of Venkataramanan’s dignity is much more. Cyrus Mistry cannot be let loose with impunity for his reckless and irresponsible insinuations which were all false and baseless, he said. All such allegations were hurled irresponsibly against Venkataramanan, Ratan Tata, Tata Sons and others only after his unceremonious ouster from Tata Sons, he pointed out.
Venkataramanan’s lawyer also apprised the court of what he termed the “defamatory insinuations” in Cyrus Mistry’s letter dated October 25, 2016, followed by the NCLT petition filed through his brother and his companies, in which he is a 50% shareholder and a director. The lawyer said that Mistry exaggerated the baseless insinuations through his affidavit in reply, supporting the original allegations in the petition. He also apprised the court of the NCLT orders dismissing the petition and the court’s observations therein.