SC sends ‘message’ to high court, frees Arnab Goswami
The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the “forthwith” release of Republic TV managing director Arnab Goswami and two others in a 2018 abetment to suicide case, saying it would be a “travesty of justice” and “we are travelling the path of destruction” if personal liberty is curtailed.
The apex court expressed concern over state governments targeting individuals on the basis of ideology.
The court also granted interim bail to two others in the case — Neetish Sarda and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh.
A vacation bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee restrained the three accused from interfering with the investigation or intimidating witnesses.
Goswami and the others were arrested by Alibaug police in Maharashtra’s Raigad district on November 4 in connection with the suicide of architect-interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother in 2018 over alleged non-payment of dues by the companies of the accused.
“Whatever be his (Goswami’s) ideology… I don’t even watch his channel, but if in this case constitutional courts do not interfere today — we are undeniably travelling the path of destruction,” Justice Chandrachud orally observed during the four-and-a-half-hour hearing.
The court granted interim bail even as senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Amit Desai, appearing for the Maharashtra government, opposed such a relief on the ground that the regular bail application was to come up for hearing on Thursday. Desai also argued that since hundreds of such bail applications of various other accused are pending in different trial courts, no special consideration can be shown to Goswami.
The Supreme Court rejected the argument, saying that as a constitutional court it was more concerned about a citizen’s fundamental right to liberty and that a message must go out to the high court that it should uphold the “personal liberty of citizens”.
“…The appeals before this court arise from the order of the division bench of the high court of judicature at Mumbai dated 9 November 2020, by which the applications for the grant of the interim bail moved by the appellants pending the disposal of their writ petitions have been rejected….
“We are of the considered view that the high court was in error in rejecting the applications for the grant of interim bail. We accordingly order and direct that Arnab Manoranjan Goswami, Feroz Mohammad Shaikh and Neetish Sarda shall be released on interim bail, subject to each of them executing a personal bond in the amount of Rs 50,000 to be executed before the jail superintendent. They are, however, directed to cooperate in the investigation and shall not make any attempt to interfere with the ongoing investigation or with the witnesses,” Justice Chandrachud, who dictated the order in open court around 4.30pm, said.
The court directed the authorities of Taloja jail and the superintendent of police of Raigad “…to ensure that this order is complied with forthwith”.
Later in the evening, Goswami was freed.
Bombay High Court had rejected Goswami’s bail plea on Monday, saying that by law he should seek regular bail in the sessions court before approaching the higher courts.
Justice Chandrachud observed during Wednesday’s hearing: “We must send a message today to the high courts as well…. Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty…. Case after case, high courts are denying personal liberty.”
Observing that it would be a travesty of justice if the personal liberty of a person was curtailed, the bench expressed concern over state governments targeting individuals on the basis of ideology and difference of opinion.
“We are seeing case after case where high courts are not granting bail and failing to protect the personal liberty of people,” the bench said.
The court asked the Maharashtra government whether there was any need for custodial interrogation of Goswami, and said the issue pertains to “personal liberty”.
It observed that the Maharashtra government must ignore Goswami’s comments on TV. “Yes we are with you, they (victims’ family) deserve a fair investigation, but if a state targets an individual like (this), that is not fair…. I don’t even watch his (Goswami’s) channel, never turn it on. Our democracy is extraordinarily resilient. Governments must ignore all this,” Justice Chandrachud remarked.