New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee on Wednesday ordered the release of Republic TV owner and editor Arnab Goswami and his other co-accused on interim bail, after hearing the appeal against the Bombay high court order denying Goswami interim relief.
“The [Bombay] high court was in error in rejecting the application for grant of interim bail,” the bench held.
Feroz Mohammad Shaikh and Neetish Sarda are Goswami’s co-accused in the 2018 abetment-to-suicide case.
The apex court ordered that a bond of Rs 50,000 is to be executed by all three before the jail superintendent and asked the Raigad Police to execute the release order immediately. After a daylong hearing, the Supreme Court said that a detailed judgment will be “released later.”
The bench expressed displeasure at the Bombay high court order denying Goswami relief, saying that constitutional courts have the duty to intervene when personal liberty is at stake. “SC is unhappy that HCs, which are constitutional courts, are not doing enough in matters where personal liberty is denied…,” Justice Chandrachud said, according to the Indian Express. “If this court were not to interfere today, we are travelling on a path of destruction of personal liberty undeniably… If state govt’s target individuals in this manner, let’s send out a message that SC is there.”
Justice Chandrachud also wondered if abetment to suicide charges can be used only based on non-payment of dues, if there is no personal relationship between to the two individuals. “To make out a case of abetment, there has to be active incitement and encouragement. If money is owed to a person, is that a case of abetment to suicide? A owes money to B. B due to financial stress commit suicide. Will it attract offence under section 306 IPC? We are dealing with personal liberty here and because he was owed money, Naik committed suicide due to financial stress. Is this a case for custodial interrogation?” the judge said, according to LiveLaw.
Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, argued that the Maharashtra Police did not really need custodial interrogation of the Republic TV anchor, and only wanted 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 alleged that the Maharashtra government is wrongly using powers to re-investigate the case. “The rule is bail, not jail. Not even a day more should he be in jail,” Goswami’s lawyer said.
The bench told Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra, that the state government should not respond to taunts on TV. “Our democracy is extraordinarily strong and resilient. Governments should ignore tweets and move on. This is not the basis on which elections are fought…If you don’t like a channel then don’t watch it,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The Bombay high court had on Monday (November 9) refused interim relief to Goswami, saying he could approach the sessions court for regular bail as no case was made out for an extraordinary hearing. The same day, Goswami filed a bail application before the sessions court at Alibaug in Maharashtra’s Raigad district.
Goswami and two others – Feroze Shaikh and Nitish Sarda – were arrested by Alibaug police 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 companies of the accused.
After his arrest from his residence in Mumbai, Goswami was taken to Alibaug, where the chief judicial magistrate refused to remand him in police custody. The magistrate’s court remanded Goswami and the two others in judicial custody till November 18.
When the Supreme Court urgently listed Goswami’s appeal against the Bombay high court order for hearing, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Dushyant Dave wrote a letter to the top court expressing concern over the “selective listing of matters”.
“The likes of Goswami get special treatment while ordinary Indians are made to suffer, including imprisonment, which are many times illegal and unauthorised,” he wrote, asking whether the listing was made based on a special direction from either the Chief Justice of India as it is “quite well known that such extraordinarily urgent listings of matters cannot and does not take place without specific orders from the CJI”.