New Delhi, Aug 28 (PTI) The Delhi High Court Friday dismissed a plea by Mehul Choksi, an accused in the nearly USD 2 billion PNB scam, to conduct pre-screening of Netflix documentary, ‘Bad Boy Billionaires’.
Justice Navin Chawla, after hearing the matter for over two hours, declined to grant relief to Choksi saying a writ petition for enforcement of a private right cannot be maintainable.
The court said his remedy lies in a civil suit and granted him the liberty to raise the issue in a civil suit.
“In my opinion a writ petition for enforcement of a private is not maintainable. The appropriate remedy would be civil suit as the alleged infringement is of a private right. The petition is dismissed. The petitioner is at liberty to raise the issue in a private civil suit,” the judge said.
Choksi, the promoter of Gitanjali Gems, and his nephew Nirav Modi are accused in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank fraud case.
Choksi left the country last year and was granted citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda.
The documentary, scheduled for release in India on September 2, is promoted by Netflix as: “This investigative docuseries explores the greed, fraud and corruption that built up - and ultimately brought down - India’s most infamous tycoons”.
The plea for pre-screening of the documentary was vehemently opposed by Netflix saying it was wholly misconceived and mischievous petition.
Senior advocates Neeraj Kishan Kaul and Dayan Krishnan, representing Netflix Inc and Netflix Entertainment Services India LLP, argued that Choksi was a declared absconder and fugitive and allowing pre-screening to him will amount to “freezing of free speech”.
Choksi’s lawyer Vijay Aggarwal contended that he has a right to fair trial which should not be prejudiced with the release of the documentary and vehemently objected to the submission of Netflix lawyer that Choksi was a fugitive.
“I am not a fugitive. There is a stay order operating in my favour by the Bombay High Court. They have called me a fugitive 100 times in this hearing and they have misinformed the court. I urge the court to preview the series and protect me (Choksi),” Aggarwal submitted.
He contended that Netflix, which is an American company, has to respect the Indian law and Constitution or else it shall also be banned like Chinese apps.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma and central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul, representing the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, maintained that there is no statutory mandate to regulate or review Over The Top (OTT) content.
Giving a brief about the series, Kaul submitted that it was a story of a diamondaire who travelled to London with his uncle and then the PNB scam took place. He said only one or two interviews of Choksi to the media are there in the series and just two minutes are devoted to him.
There is no reference of any trial going on Choksi or him being related to any case allegedly involving Nirav Modi, the senior counsel said.
“If pre-screening is allowed, it will be a form of censorship. Free speech is not only what a journalist writes, it is also the right of a citizen to know what is happening,” he submitted.
In view of earlier orders of the division bench of the high court, the single judge refused to direct the Centre to take steps to regulate Netflix in so far as release of the content may prejudice the pending investigation and trials.
The petition, filed through advocates Naman Joshi and Tarun Singla, had also sought postponement of the documentary’s release.
It said Choksi saw the trailer and has been receiving phone calls from across the world asking him whether he was part of the documentary and seeking comments.
“Thereafter, the petitioner (Choksi) discovered that one of the persons seen speaking in the trailer was one Mr. Pavan C. Lall who had written a book titled 'Flawed: The Rise and Fall of India’s Diamond Mogul Nirav Modi' where also the petitioner’s name had been commingled with Nirav Modi’s,” the plea said.
In the petition, Choksi claimed he has been falsely accused of various crimes in India and is presently under investigation or standing trial by and before various authorities and/or courts.
“The petitioner is entitled in terms of Indian law, that is, Article 21 of the Constitution of India to a presumption of innocence and a free and fair trial. Reputation being a facet of a person’s life, the petitioner is also entitled to a right to a reputation,” it said. PTI SKV HMP SA