Law

Supreme Court Rejects Arnab Goswami's Plea to Quash FIRs, Transfer Probe to CBI

The top court said the Republic TV founder was free to move the competent court for quashing of the case and extended protection from coercive action for the next three weeks.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the plea of Republic TV’s editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami to transfer the criminal cases lodged against him for statements made during news broadcasts to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The top court also rejected the plea to quash the case against Goswami, but confirmed the interim order passed on April 24, which allowed the consolidation of several FIRs and their transfer to Mumbai for investigation by the police there.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah said the journalist was free to move the competent court for quashing of the FIR – saying it was not for the Supreme Court to do this – and extended protection from coercive action for the next three weeks.

According to PTI, the top court also observed that “journalistic freedom lies at the core of freedom of speech and expression”.

Background

The news anchor had moved the Supreme Court on two occasions, first seeking the quashing of the FIRs registered against him and again to pray that the Maharashtra Police’s investigation is transferred to an independent agency like the CBI.

Complaints were filed against the Republic TV founder in relation to two news broadcasts. During one programme on the Palghar lynching, Goswami was accused of making “defamatory remarks” against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and promoting enmity between groups.

The other programme was a debate on an incident in Bandra when several migrant workers gathered near a train station, demanding to be sent back home. Goswami is accused of making statements that communalised the incident.

The top court on May 11 had directed that no coercive action should be taken against Goswami in the fresh FIR lodged by Mumbai police and had reserved its verdict on both his petitions.

Goswami had claimed in the top court that he was interrogated by the Mumbai Police for over 12 hours and that one of the investigating officers had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Maharashtra government had also moved the apex court, alleging that Goswami has been misusing the protection granted by the top court and has been “browbeating” the police by “creating fear psychosis”.

During the hearing on May 11, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, had argued that the case is one of a “political party targeting a journalist as the complainants are members of one particular party”. “This will have a chilling effect on freedom of press,” he had said.

The top court had told Salve that points raised by him could be argued before the Bombay high court either in an anticipatory bail plea or petition for quashing of the case.

It had said the court can give liberty to Goswami to approach the high court after the expiry of interim protection already given to him by the apex court earlier in the cases related to Palghar incident.

Supreme Court of India. Photo: PTI

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had told the bench that this is a “peculiar case” as Goswami and the police were accusing each other of “pressure”. Therefore, the court must look at the possibility of having an independent investigation agency like CBI to probe the cases, he said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Maharashtra government, had argued that Goswami’s statement violated Article 19 and that the journalist “cannot stigmatise people” by way of sensationalising matters.

Previously, the top court had on April 24 granted 3-week protection to Goswami against any coercive steps in connection with some FIRs lodged against him in various states for alleged defamatory statements made during news shows on Palghar mob lynching of three persons.

The May 2 FIR was lodged in Mumbai against him and two others for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by making derogatory remark regarding a mosque located in suburban Bandra, a Mumbai police officer had said.

(With PTI input)