SC Grants Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami, Directs High Courts to Protect Personal Liberty

NEW DELHI, Nov 11: A vacation bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to the editor-in-chief of the Republic TV Arnab Goswami and expressed resentment over the Bombay High Court denying him bail threatening the personal liberty of a person.

The bench comprising justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Bannerjee also directed all the high courts to exercise their jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. The bench also directed the Mumbai police commissioner to ensure that the bail order was carried out immediately.

The 47-year old journalist, who was arrested on November 4 in a case of alleged abetment to suicide by an interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik in May, 2018, had approached the apex court after the Bombay High Court on Monday refused to grant him the interim bail and directed him and his two co-accused Feroze Shaikh and Nitish Sarda to approach the Alibagh sessions court for regular bail which they complied.

Along with Goswami, the two co-accused were also granted the interim bail on a bond of Rs 50,000 each.

The bench demonstrated the constitutional court’s strong will to protect the personal liberty of people and virtually admonished the Maharashtra government for arresting the three accused for re-investigation of a charge which could be looked into by checking available documents. The bench expressed concern over state governments targeting “individuals on the basis of ideology, difference of opinion” and said they must realise there was an apex court to protect liberty of citizens.

Saying that the Bombay High Court erred in rejecting the application for grant of interim bail to Goswami, the top court said HCs were not doing enough in matters where personal liberty was denied.

“SC is unhappy that HCs, which are constitutional courts, are not doing enough in matters where personal liberty is denied…,” Justice Chandrachud said. “If this court were not to interfere today, we are travelling on a path of destruction of personal liberty undeniably…Is this is what our state governments will do to those who have to be nailed…? Don’t watch the channel if you don’t like… Left to myself I will not watch… If state governments target individuals in this manner, let’s send out a message that SC is there,” he added.

The SC’s observations came after senior advocate Harish Salve who represented Goswami told the court that the Maharashtra government was wrongly using the power to re-investigate the case. “We are well past the FIR stage. The FIR was lodged on May 5, 2018, and after this matter was investigated. The Power to re-investigation has been wrongly used, he said.

His argument came in the backdrop of Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh ordering a re-investigation on the basis of a fresh complaint by the family of deceased designer who left behind a suicide note alleging that non-payment of his dues by Goswami and two other companies caused him to commit suicide.

The top court observed that Indian democracy was “extraordinarily resilient” and the Maharashtra government must ignore all this (Arnab’s taunt on TV). “Whatever be his ideology, least I don’t even watch his channel but if in this case constitutional court’s do not interfere today, we are travelling the path of destruction undeniably,” Justice Chandrachud said, adding, “the point is can you deny personal liberty of a person on these allegations”.

“We are seeing case after case where HCs are not granting bail and failing to protect personal liberty of people,” the court added.

Justice Chandrachud asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra, if there was any active encouragement or instigation in the case to constitute an offence of abetment to suicide. “Otherwise look at the drastic consequences. We are dealing with personal liberty,” said Justice Chandrachud.

Salve had also argued that Maharashtra Police seeking custodial interrogation of Goswami was “nothing but a smokescreen to teach him a lesson.”

“Allegation (against Goswami) is about withholding money which can be ascertained from documents. What’s the need for custodial interrogation? It’s just a smokescreen to teach the man a lesson,” Salve said.

Salve also said the case against Goswami did not stand the test of basic ingredients required to establish an offence of abetment to suicide under Section 306 of IPC. “For abetment, there must be direct and indirect act of commission of offense. If a person commits suicide in Maharashtra & blames government, will the CM be arrested? Need to apply proximity test to prove abetment to suicide case,” he said.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Dushyant Dave protested the “urgent” listing of Goswami’s petition before the two-judge bench on Wednesday.

(Manas Dasgupta)

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