Amid growing protests against crony capitalism in India, the Adani Group appears to be more sensitive than ever about its public image.
In January 2021, it was reported that an Adani company obtained a court order against a YouTube broadcaster preventing him from publishing reports of any kind pertaining to Adani until the next hearing of the case. The broadcaster, Vinay Dubey, had allegedly accused Adani Agri Logistics of building private railways and food-grain silos for the purposes of hoarding and profiteering. The Adani company claimed that the video had been published ‘to create civil unrest by instigating farmers and people at large’.
Adani’s move comes at a time of massive protests by farmers against the deregulation of agriculture by India’s Modi government. As a likely beneficiary of the new system, the Adani Group is one of the targets of a proposed boycott by farming groups and other protesters. Farmers have protested outside at least one Adani silo.
The strength of feeling appears to have spooked Adani. According to media reports, the Adani Group wrote to a government minister in late 2020 seeking an intervention against ‘fake news’ and an associated Twitterstorm. The letter reportedly complains of ‘a planned attempt to malign the reputation of the prominent business houses through fake news on Twitter to systematically wreak havoc even as the Centre has launched a campaign focusing on making India self-reliant in various sectors to promote investments and generate jobs locally’. It calls for the government to crack down on such attempts with ‘the utmost severity’.
Such attacks by the Adani Group on its critics in India are not new.
In 2017, the Adani Group mounted a lawsuit against several journalists, including respected senior broadcaster and writer, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and frequent AdaniWatch contributor, Abir Dasgupta, over a story into alleged tax evasion by the Adani Group. A legal notice served by Gautam Adani’s lawyer to India’s leading academic journal, the Economic And Political Weekly, led to the journal’s trustees pushing Guha Thakurta to quit as editor. While editor of EPW, he co-authored a piece titled ‘Did the Adani Group Evade Rs 1,000 Crore in Taxes?’ and another titled ‘Modi Government’s Rs 500-Crore Bonanza to the Adani Group.’
Eventually, the lawsuit was effectively dismissed, with the court ordering only minor alterations to the relevant story.
The Adani Group has recently taken to the courts in Australia as well.
In August 2020, Adani Australia launched legal proceedings against Brisbane climate campaigner, Ben Pennings, alleging ‘a sustained campaign of harassment’ against the company’s business and contractors. Mr Pennings was the public face of Galilee Blockade, a community group dedicated to keeping the fossil fuels of Queensland’s vast Galilee Basin in the ground in order to protect the Earth’s climate. In December 2020, he won the Bob Brown Foundation’s award for Environmentalist of the Year.
In preparing for its lawsuit, Adani secretly sought to raid the Brisbane home of Mr Pennings and his young family in order to obtain ‘confidential information’. On 28 October 2020, it was revealed that Adani had organised surveillance of the home and family of Mr Pennings, a move that aroused widespread disgust and condemnation. The court dismissed Adani’s bid for the raid, citing the ‘humiliation and family distress’ it might cause. Following these revelations, concerns were raised about the implications for free speech and journalism.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) condemned the Adani Group for attempting to use a SLAPP suit – ‘Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation’ – against one of its critics. It warned that journalists who use information alleged to be confidential by Adani could become targets. An online post published what it purported to be an ‘attack dog legal strategy’ allegedly promulgated by the Adani Group’s legal firm, AJ & Co, in which an aggressive approach was advocated. This included ‘bankrupting individuals’.
In 2019, the MEAA raised the alarm about the Adani Group’s alleged interference in the ABC’s coverage of the group’s operations. MEAA director Katelin McInerney said that the intervention was ‘a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass journalists going about their duties to report legitimate news stories in the public interest. Attacks on press freedom must not be tolerated in a healthy functioning democracy – regardless of whether those assaults come from political interests or powerful corporations seeking to deter legitimate scrutiny of their activities’. She called on ABC management to give backing and support to its journalists in order to fulfil their responsibilities as journalists and to the ABC charter.
AdaniWatch will continue to report on the silencing of the Adani Group’s critics by the courts.