The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and two others in the 2018 case of alleged abetment to suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik.
A vacation bench of Justice Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee said that Goswami, Nitish Sarda and Parveen Rajesh Singh should be released on interim bail on a bond of Rs 50,000. It further directed the Commissioner of Police to ensure the order is followed immediately.
Arnab Goswami was released soon after. A large crowd had gathered outside Taloja jail to welcome him, and he was seen chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ & ‘Vande Mataram’ as he came out.
— ANI (@ANI) November 11, 2020
Earlier, Bombay High Court had refused to give interim bail after a 5-day hearing and had directed Arnab to approach lower courts for relief.
Goswami filed a plea before the Supreme Court challenging the high court decision stating that his arrest was “illegal, mala-fide and politically motivated as evident from the multifarious proceedings initiated against him, his news channels, Republic and Republic Bharat at the behest of the political dispensation.”
The SC bench said the high court was in error in rejecting the application for grant of interim bail, and Justice Chandrachud felt the Bombay High Court had not focused on the main issue, ie the FIR against Goswami, and instead looked more at the arguments on the habeas corpus plea that Goswami’s lawyers had ended up withdrawing.
“We need to send a message to the high courts as well, to exercise their jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty,” he said. “In case after case, high courts are denying personal liberty.”
The bench also observed that it was difficult to see how the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code could be made out in a commercial dispute.
“If tomorrow, a person commits suicide in Maharashtra and blames Government, then will the Chief minister be arrested?,” Justice Chandrachud asked during the hearing.
Justice Chandrachud also said –
“If we don’t interfere in this case today we will walk on path of destruction. If left to me I won’t watch the channel and you may differ in ideology but Constitutional courts will have to protect such freedoms …
A woman was hauled up for a tweet in West Bengal as she criticised the lockdown enforcement. She was issued summons under 41A. Is this fair? This cannot happen.
Victim is entitled to recourse as in proper and fair probe. But answer is simple. If you don’t like a channel then don’t watch it…governments must ignore what’s on a TV channel, as this is not the basis on which elections are fought.
Technicality, this cannot be a ground to deny someone personal liberty. This is not a case of terrorism….Would it not be a travesty of justice if someone is denied bail for this?”
Arnab’s lawyer Harish Salve claimed malice on the part of the State against his client. He said the abetment to suicide matter remained silent till May 2020. But when the Palghar incident took place on April 16 and Republic carried out a broadcast on April 21, on May 26, a letter was written (by the interior designer’s family) and the case was reopened without judicial consent.
Salve cited the numerous cases filed against Goswami and Republic TV in Maharashtra, including
- The FIR on Goswami’s Palghar lynching coverage (stayed by Bombay HC, currently being heard by SC);
- The FIR on coverage of the Bandra migrants gathering;
- The Shiv Sena’s letter to cable TV companies asking them to Ban Republic (which Bombay HC said had no force of law);
- The Maharashtra Assembly’s breach of privilege motion against Goswami for his comments about chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and other politicians (currently being considered by SC).
Salve then took the court through the recent developments in the fake TRP case, where the research company which had been the complainant in the FIR regarding it, Hansa Research Group, had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court in which he said they were alleging being coerced into making a false statement against Republic
“Challenge to TRP is still pending. Mumbai Police is accused of coercing witnesses. 7 days the man is being incarcerated. Look at the discussion in assembly. it shows the political system is angry with me,” he said.
“Let us assume there is an FIR which is three years old why will you arrest him and then put him in Taloja with hardened criminals. Is Goswami a terrorist, is there a murder charge on him? This cannot be assumed to be yet another criminal case. Will heavens fall if this man is released. Jail is an exception, not a rule,” he added.
Kapil Sibal appearing for Shiva Sena-led Maharashtra Government urged the Court to not set a “dangerous precedent” by granting bail on a reading of the FIR, when the plea for quashing the FIR is before the High Court.
Advocate Amit Desai, also appearing for the Maharashtra government, asked the Supreme Court to not ‘interfere,’ and said the courts cannot change the hierarchy of the system for a gentleman accused under Section 306. CU Singh appearing for Naik’s wife also said intervention by Supreme Court will set a ‘dangerous precedent’.
The very fact that Arnab Goswami was incarcerated for 6 days on such a flimsy charge which reeks of political malice, means we should not get carried away with the Supreme Court’s intervention to grant iterim relief to him. Incidentally, Justice Chandrachud’s observations have been met with disdain and open contempt in certain sections of the left-liberal universe.
However, we must remember that the same Justice Chandrachud is still regarded as a liberal icon by Lutyens and has delivered other interesting judgements like taking at face value arrested Maoists’ claim that they were being muzzled for “dissent”. And his recent comments during a virtual seminar organised by Harvard, about his philosophy of judging and his determination to ‘transform’ society, must worry all citizens.
The Arnab case was, frankly, a no-brainer – denying him bail any longer would have indeed come across as a travesty of justice. But we must also remember Sameet Thakkar, who is still languishing in jail for alleged tweets taking routine political jibes at Uddhav and his son.
After his release, Arnab made a emotional address to Republic employees and viewers at his newsroom. He said he had undergone a transformation in the last 8 days, but was not going to take a step back from criticising the Uddhav Thackeray government. He also announced the launch of Republic channels in all regional languages of Bharat as well as an international outlet within the next 18 months.
While he has indeed emerged stronger from this ordeal and won the support of many in the middle-class, it would benefit him and the cause he claims to represent if he tones down his style and rhetoric during his debates.
As for the Maharashtra government and its torture-accused Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh, it remains to be seen if they have learnt any lessons from the scathing criticism of the Supreme Court. Just a few days back Republic TV’s distribution head, Ghanshyam Singh, was arrested by police in the fake TRP case and led away from his home with a black cloth covering his head.
Will the witch hunt end, or will it continue?
(Featured image source: Indian Express)
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