The Supreme Court, while hearing Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami's plea seeking relief in the 2018 abetment to suicide case, on Wednesday asked the High Courts to exercise their jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty.
"Whatever be his ideology... but if in this case, if constitutional courts do not interfere today, we are undeniably travelling the path of destruction. We must send a message today to the High Courts as well. Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty," Justice DY Chandrachud, heading the bench hearing the case, said.
A vacation bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee is hearing the petition filed by Arnab Goswami challenging the November 9 order of the Bombay High Court, which refused to grant him interim relief in the matter.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, argued that the overlay of the malice and fact and the abuse and conduct of state power is not something that happens on a day in and day out basis.
"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. High Court has found the power of Bombay Police of re-investigation by confusing the designation of the officer who has this power," Salve submitted.
He asked how can it be abetment to suicide when a person who was in financial difficulty and committed suicide. "The matter remained silent till May 2020. On April 16 Palghar incident took place. Republic TV carried it on April 2. In May 2020 reinvestigation in the abetment to suicide case ordered. But reinvestigation can only be on the order of the court," Salve added.
Taking the court through cases against Arnab Goswami, Salve said that Goswami was blamed for making inflammatory statements regarding the migrant gathering at Mumbai's Bandra, which was later quashed by the High Court stating prima facie is no offence is made out.
"The Shiv Sena wrote a letter to cable operators to ban Republic. Then this letter was held to have no authority of law and that remedy is with Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT)," He said.
Salve also referred to the breach of privilege motion issued against Arnab Goswami by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on September 8 for using sharp language against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. "Supreme Court has issued contempt notice against Secretary of Assembly in the matter," he added.
He also mentioned that an FIR was also filed on the complaint of Hansa (TRP case) on October 6 and Mumbai Police Commissioner made allegations against the Republic TV.
"The Alibaug court went through all this and stated that the arrest of the accused is illegal. Is this not enough to release him on bond? The court has said that the relation of the accused needs to be established with suicide and until then police custody cannot be given. Then why is his custodial interrogation required?," Salve asked.
Justice Chandrachud said that to make out a case of abetment there has to active incitement and encouragement. The judge asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the Maharashtra government, if it is a case of abetment, if money is owed to a person.
"We are dealing with personal liberty here and because he was owed money, Naik committed suicide due to financial stress. Is this a case of custodial questioning?... Assuming the FIR is the gospel truth and that is a matter of investigation but is not paying up money abetment to suicide? It will be a travesty of justice if bail is not granted while FIR is pending," Justice Chandrachud noted.
On November 4, Goswami was arrested in connection with the 2018 suicide case. Later, he was sent to 14-day judicial custody by a lower court later that day.
The suicide case, in which a closure report was filed in 2019, was reopened after Naik's wife Akshata approached a court. In September this year, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had ordered a re-investigation into the case after a fresh complaint by Naik's daughter.