Apex court raps Bombay HC in Arnab Goswami bail case

The Bombay HC (High court) has been pulled up by the apex court in a two-year-old abetment to the suicide case of businessman Anvay Naik while giving out the reasons for granting bail to the Republic TV editor-in-chief in its 11th November judgment. The court also stated that bail and not jail is the norm and that the bail would remain in effect for four weeks even the Bombay HC is set to hear Goswami’s plea for quashing the FIR (First Information Report).

A two-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee have given Republic Editor Goswami four weeks’ time to approach the apex court if needed after the Bombay HC  pronounces its verdict on the quashing of FIR plea. The bench opined that the Bombay HC had erred in not granting Goswami bail and said that the norm was always to grant bail.

It further observed that the HC  should have taken into consideration the fact that the FIR did not establish any prima facie evidence of abetment to suicide charge. The Bombay HC was also rapped by the SC bench for failing to ensure that the state doesn’t use criminal law as a tool to harass citizens or jeopardize their liberty. The SC had while granting bail to Arnab on 11th November observed that it was the duty of high courts across the country to preserve the liberty of citizens.

The apex court stated in no uncertain terms that Section 306 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) was not applicable in Goswami’s case on the basis of primary evaluation. It made a scathing observation against the Bombay HC for having failed to examine whether Section 306 read with Section 34 of the IPC was applicable in the case or not.

The apex court judgment says:

“Prima facie, on the application of the test which has been laid down by this Court in a consistent line of authority which has been noted above, it cannot be said that the appellant was guilty of having abetted the suicide within the meaning of Section 306 of the IPC.”

The apex court also pointed out several other errors by the Bombay HC when it said that there was no prima facie evidence to prove that Republic Editor Goswami played an active role by instigating or doing any act to facilitate the commission of suicide. It opined that the suicide note merely expressed the suffering of the deceased and in no way indicated anything intentional on the part of the accused to push the businessman towards suicide.

The apex court pulled up the Bombay HC for failing at two levels first in declining to evaluate prima facie at the interim stage in a petition for quashing the FIR as to whether an arguable case has been made out, and secondly, in declining interim bail, as a consequence of its failure to render a prima facie opinion on the first reports Live Law.

The apex court was of the opinion that there is a disconnect between the FIR and IPC Section 306 provisions. The bench added that “the High Court was clearly in error in failing to perform a duty which is entrusted to it while evaluating a petition under Section 482 albeit at the interim stage”.

It was also pointed out that there was neither any risk of the appellants fleeing away during the course of the investigation nor were there any grounds to believe that there would be any tampering of witnesses or evidences if the appellants were granted bail.

While granting the bail, the apex court had made it clear in no uncertain terms that the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA (Maha Vikas Aghadi) government in Maharashtra was attempting to nail the Republic Editor for having a different ideology. It indirectly pointed out that the MVA government was misusing its powers merely because it disagreed with Arnab’s views and ideology and that the HC had failed in its duty to ensure that it has to serve the interests of the citizens and not the state.

Such scathing observations by the apex court itself raises several questions on the impartiality of the Bombay HC and whether it would treat citizens fairly.


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