Vacation Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee of Supreme Court today granted bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, who is currently in judicial custody for his alleged involvement in a 2018 abetment to suicide case.
The Court passed the order in an appeal preferred by Goswami against the Bombay High Court order which denied him interim bail in the 2018 case.
The Bench held that the Bombay High Court was incorrect in denying Arnab Goswami interim bail on November 7.
It thus directed for Arnab Goswami and the two other co-accused to be released immediately on a bond of Rs 50,000. The Superintendent of Police, Raigad, has been directed to ensure order is followed immediately.
Shortly after the matter was listed before the Apex Court, Senior Advocate and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Dushyant Dave questioned the manner in which the bail plea was listed the very next day after it was filed.
Plea filed by Arnab Goswami before Supreme Court
Dave has lodged “strong protest” pertaining to Arnab Goswami in Abetment to Suicide Case with the Secretary General of the Supreme Court Registry, pointing out that Goswami’s petitions before the Court are listed urgently while other similarly placed litigants are kept waiting.
Arnab Goswami has been in judicial custody since November 4 following his arrest in relation to the 2018 suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother. Naik had named Goswami and two others in his suicide note alleging that they had failed to pay up money owed for the work done by his company.
The case was initially closed in 2019 before it was re-opened in 2020 based on a representation made by Naik’s daughter, Adnya Naik to the State Home Minister, Anil Deshmukh.
The anchor was produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Alibaug on November 4, where the Raigad Police filed a remand application seeking police custody of Goswami for a period of two weeks.
The plea for police custody was rejected by the CJM, and instead, Arnab Goswami was remanded to judicial custody till November 18.
The CJM Alibaug recently granted permission to the local CID Unit, Raigad Police to interrogate Goswami for three hours every day.
Even as the High Court verdict on interim bail was pending, Goswami had moved a regular bail application before the Sessions Court, Alibaug. This matter is currently pending.
Observations of Court
During the course of the hearing, Justice Chandrachud observed,
“If we don’t interfere in this case today, we will walk on a 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…”
At the outset of today’s hearing, Justice Chandrachud noted that in the SLP filed by Arnab Goswami before the Apex Court, the habeas corpus plea was not pressed for. Thus, only the issue of quashing the FIR remains, he said.
Appearing for Goswami, Senior Advocate Harish Salve sought to highlight the malice on the part of the State in prosecuting his client. He took the Court through the contents of the FIR, pointing out that an “A Summary” report denoting closure of the case was filed last year.
Making his case that there was no abetment to suicide, Salve proceeded to show the Court that Arnab Goswami had paid the pending amount to Naik’s company, Concorde Designs. He asked,
“The person was in financial difficulty and thereafter committed suicide, but how can it be abetment to suicide?”
He then pointed out that the Maharashtra Home Minister directed the police to reinvestigate the case, without getting the A Summary report set aside by a judicial forum.
Salve then took the Court through the chain of events that led to the reopening of the case, making reference to the previous FIRs lodged against Arnab Goswami. Reference was made to the flak received for his reportage on the Palghar and Bandra incidents, and the breach of privilege motion issued by the Maharashtra Assembly.
The Court expressed three concerns, namely, the High Court said that the complainant was not heard when A Summary report was filed; the High Court held that acceptance of A Summary does not prevent probe under Section 173(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC); and that the prayer to quash the 2018 FIR was still alive before the High Court.
Pointing out that the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Alibaug had stated that arrest of Goswami was illegal, and that a prima facie link between Goswami and Naik’s suicide cannot be created, Salve pressed for his client’s release. He asked the Court,
“Will heavens fall if the man is released?”
The Court then noted,
“For Section 306 abetment, there needs to be actual incitement. If one owes money to another and they commit suicide, would it be abetment?…Can you say that it is a case for custodial interrogation?”
Justice Chandrachud also observed that the Bombay High Court, in its order rejecting interim bail to Goswami, did not consider whether there was a prima facie case of abetment to suicide.
Appearing for the State of Maharashtra, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal said,
“My friend Salve did not argue this. You have raised an important question. All that Salve argued was assembly notice or Palghar incident.”
Justice Chandrachud further observed,
“We are assuming the allegations of FIR as gospel truth, but even then, is a case of Section 306 made out? In a matter like this, when some dues were not paid, would a suicide mean abetment? Would it not be a travesty of justice if someone is denied bail for this?”
Senior Advocate Amit Desai then pointed out that Goswami had filed a bail application before the Magistrate and then withdrew the same, choosing a forum that suited him. To this, Justice Chandrachud replied,
“Technicality cannot be a ground to deny someone personal liberty. This is not a case of terrorism.”
Defending the High Court order, Desai said that it was conscious of the fact that the plea for regular bail was filed before the Sessions Court. That matter is scheduled to be heard tomorrow. He went on to contend,
“High Court had exercised restraint as remedy under Section 439 CrPC was open to him…In this case, a lot of material has been collected. Complaint was received in May and probe began in October.”
Desai went on to submit,
“Sessions Court is hearing the matter…why would the High Court change the hierarchy of the system for a gentleman accused under Section 306?”
He further argued that it is the duty of the State to respect the victim (Naik’s wife Akshata), who has been continually knocking the doors of justice. He brought to the Court’s attention the fact that she only learnt about the closure of the case from a tweet.
Desai also highlighted the fact that the High Court had directed for the bail application before the Sessions Court to be decided in four days.
“Investigation is going on and liberty is not taken away…Here, his bail plea is being heard in four days, whereas others are languishing for years.”
Senior Advocate CU Singh made arguments on behalf of Naik’s wife.
In his rejoinder submissions made after lunch, Salve argued,
“Is Goswami a terrorist, is there a murder charge on him? Why can’t he be given bail?”
Salve further pointed out that the ingredients of the offence under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) were not made out in this case.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan then made submissions for co-accused in the abetment to suicide case, Feroz Shaikh. He reiterated that the Executive cannot order investigation when a Magistrate has accepted a closure report in a case.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the other co-accused Nitesh Sarda, argued that his client and the others did not know each other. He further said,
“Somebody can go to Minister and say open a case, and it’s opened. Why is the Home Minister sitting on appeal?”
Sibal urged the Court to not set a “dangerous precedent” by granting bail on a reading of the FIR, when the matter was before the High Court. He said,
“Wait for day after tomorrow and don’t lay down this precedent. We know what is going on in your mind but we know when extraordinary orders are passed in extraordinary cases then it has repercussions.”
In its order, the Bombay High Court had noted that Goswami has a remedy under law to approach the sessions court concerned and seek regular bail.
A Division Bench of Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik hadalso clarified that the remedy to apply for regular bail under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal procedure shall remain unaffected. The High Court order reads,
“Petitioner has an alternate and efficacious remedy under section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to apply for regular bail. At the time of concluding the hearing of Applications, we had made it clear that if the petitioner, if so advised, to apply for regular bail under section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before the concerned Court, then, in that case, we have directed the concerned Court to decide the said application within four days from filing of the same.”
The High Court had refused to express its opinion on the merits of the case and the alleged illegal arrest, as the prayers pertaining to these aspects will be considered when the main plea to quash the FIR is taken up in December.
In his plea before the Supreme Court, Goswami stated that the High Court had erred in finding that it cannot exercise its powers under Article 226 when there was an “alternative efficacious remedy.”
He also claimed that the abetment to suicide case was already closed on orders of the magistrate, and that the “Home Minister or any member of the Executive is not empowered in law to order re-investigation of a case which has been closed by a judicial order. It is only a superior court which has the power to pass such a direction.” The plea further states,
“High Court failed to appreciate that the Ld. Chief Judicial Magistrate while remanding the Petitioner to judicial custody on 4 November 2020 had observed that the arrest of the Petition is illegal.”