Defamation suit: Times Now Navbharat issues corrigendum to equestrian Sthavi Asthana

News channel Times Now Navbharat has apprised the Delhi High Court that a corrigendum will be shown before its programme “News Ki Pathshala”, in which an allegation was made against equestrian Sthavi Asthana over the Uttar Pradesh government’s Yash Bharti Samman awarded to her.

Asthana was moving a defamation suit seeking Rs 2 crore as damages following the allegations in the prime-time show telecast that she was awarded the Yash Bharti Samman in 2016 solely owing to the fact that her father was the Principal Secretary (Home) of UP.

The suit was moved against the news channel, its parent company Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL) as well as editor Navika Kumar and anchor Sushant Sinha.

As per the recent order, the corrigendum will be shown as: “We refer to our broadcast on 22.01.2022 on Times Now Navbharat in the program ‘News Ki Pathshala’. The broadcast, inter-alia, discussed the issue of Yash Bharati awards given to persons/candidates during the years 2012-2017. The broadcast refers to two persons who were found eligible by the Government of Uttar Pradesh. This is to clarify that one of them was Ms. Sthavi Asthana, which was accorded based on her achievements as an equestrian. The corrigendum is issued thus.”

The Yash Bharti Award was instituted by former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1994. It was awarded to those personalities whose contribution is remarkable in the field of literature, social work, medicine, film, science, journalism, handicrafts, culture, education, music, drama, sports, industry and astrology.

In 2016, the plaintiff (Asthana) was conferred the Yash Bharti award by the Uttar Pradesh government for her outstanding performance and accomplishments in the field of equestrian sports (horse-riding). She was one of the youngest recipients of the award (aged 20 years at that time). Along with the award, the recipients were conferred with 11L and a lifetime pension of Rs 50,000, Asthana’s counsel submitted.

In 2017, after the assembly elections, the newly formed government announced that it will be reviewing the pension criteria of the Yash Bharti awards.

On August 28, 2019, the state government after a thorough review announced that the majority of those who received the Yash Bharti Samman from Uttar Pradesh’s former government will not receive the monthly pension.

The Directorate of Culture, after doing an intensive inquiry found that only two awardees are deserving of the Yash Bharti Award pension by the state government — singer Ustad Gulshan Bharti and the Plaintiff Ms. Sthavi Asthana. The plaintiff continues to receive the pension in furtherance of the award.

The said fact was revealed via an RTI as also contended by the defendants and stated in the show without naming the laintiff.

The counsels for the plaintiff, Karuna Krishan Thareja and Shishir Prakash had sent the legal notice to the Times Now Navbharat editor-in-chief Navika Kumar and Senior Anchor Sushant Sinha to issue an apology and furnish damages.

The company Bennet & Coleman on behalf of editor-in-Chief Times Now Navbharat Navika Kumar and Sushant Sinha responded to the legal notice in April 2022 refusing to tender an apology.

Hence, the plaintiff filed a Rs 2 crore defamation suit for damages and for permanent injunction among other reliefs.

Plaintiff’s counsel Karuna Krishan Thareja submitted that Asthana is a highly accomplished and awarded equestrian of international repute who has won over 144 Medals and 5 Trophies (45 Gold, 38 Silver, 53 Bronze) in equestrian sports which include 21 National medals and 6 All-India medals between the years 2011-2022. The most recent was a silver medal in the 2020-21 National Dressage Championship in February 2022 and the statements made by the defendants are without substantiation and are made wholly to diminish and undermine her achievements thereby wilfully defaming the plaintiff.

A single bench of Justice V. Kameshwar Rao after hearing the submissions, issued notices to the defendants and directed that the replies and rejoinder be filed in the matter.

The suit was dismissed as withdrawn after Asthana’s counsel submitted that it would satisfy the grievance of the plaintiff.

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