Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami held in 2018 suicide abetment case, moves Bombay HC
Arnab Goswami, Republic TV’s editor-in-chief, was on Wednesday morning arrested by the Alibag police from his Lower Parel residence for allegedly abetting the suicide of a 53-year-old interior designer and his mother in 2018, police said. The arrest marked the sharpest turn yet in Goswami’s tussle with the state’s police, as well as the government, while also sparking a political storm with senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including Union home minister Amit Shah, comparing the development to “Emergency”.
In scenes of high drama, which were aired on Republic TV and videos circulated on social media platforms, a police team arrived to arrest Goswami, 47, amid arguments and the journalist’s allegations of “physical assault” by the police, before he was taken into a van. The Alibag police have also arrested Feroz Shaikh, owner of IcastX/Skimedia, and Nitesh Sarda, owner of Smartwork, in connection with the case.
“I am the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, you are physically assaulting me, is this right?” Goswami was heard asking in a video shot by his family. Television footage also showed Goswami asking for medical aid. Police officials present in the flat countered Goswami and said nobody assaulted him. In a statement, Republic TV called the allegations against Goswami unfounded.
The Mumbai Police, meanwhile, registered a fresh FIR at NM Joshi Marg police station against Goswami, his wife Samyabrata, their son and two other unknown people on charges of assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty, and also insulting and threatening police personnel from Alibag police, when they had gone to arrest him. The complainant in the case is Sujata Tanawde, senior inspector of Rasayni police station, Raigad.
Arnab, Shaikh and Sarda were produced in the Alibag magistrate court and late on Wednesday, public prosecutor Girish Kulkarni confirmed that all three had been remanded in judicial custody for 14 days. Goswami, however, moved an application before the Bombay high court (HC) to quash the FIR filed against him.
Abad Ponda, senior counsel and lawyer for Arnab Goswami, called the entire arrest illegal and with an “oblique motive”.
“The entire arrest is illegal. He was exonerated by the judicial order of a magistrate. That order has not been set aside by any competent court much less the magistrate’s court or a superior court. He has been arrested based on an investigation which is completely illegal. At any rate he was always willing to appear, they have issued a notice to him. This is not a serious case where he should have been picked up in the manner that he is a hardened criminal or a terrorist. The entire police action smacks of malafide and clearly demonstrates that there is something more than that meets the eye. There is an oblique motive involved in this entire arrest. Hence, the rule of law is at stake and law needs to be upheld by the superior courts intervening in this completely arbitrary and illegal arrest,” Ponda said. He later said, “We have moved an application for bail. It will be heard tomorrow [today].”
In May 2018, almost a year after Republic TV was launched, Anvay Naik, and his mother were found dead at their farmhouse in Kavir village of Alibag taluka. Naik’s wife Akshata, 48, had then registered a complaint. A suicide note was found, police said, in which Naik alleged that he and his mother were forced to end their lives because he was not paid dues amounting to ₹5.40 crore by Goswami, Shaikh and Sarda. After the case was closed by the local police last year over “insufficient evidence”, Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh in May 2020 announced a fresh investigation, saying Naik’s daughter Adnya approached him, alleging that the Alibag police had not properly investigated the case.
According to the FIR in the abetment to suicide case, police claimed ARG Outlier Media Private Limited – the parent company of Republic TV – didn’t pay dues of ₹83 lakh to Naik for building Republic TV’s studios project. Police also alleged that Shaikh didn’t pay Naik ₹4 crore for his project in Andheri in Mumbai; and Sarda didn’t pay ₹55 lakh for his projects at Magarpatta and Baner in Pune.
On Wednesday, soon after his arrest, Goswami was taken to Alibag police station and later produced in Alibag court amid heavy security. According to the police, Goswami was booked under sections 306 (abetment to suicide), 34 (acts done by persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Goswami was produced before court around 12.30pm where he levelled allegations of being assaulted by the police. A team of riot control police and over 100 policemen were deployed outside court premises and police station. Following the allegation, the court asked Alibag police to conduct a medical examination and to produce a report. The court hearing later resumed at 3pm, where Alibag police sought Goswami’s custody for 14 days.
Goswami’s arrest became the latest episode in the increasingly bitter face-off between the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the ruling alliance comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress, and the BJP and the Central government led by it, with almost all key state BJP leaders taking to the streets over the “assault on democracy”. Union home minister Amit Shah, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar quickly reacted on social media and condemned the arrest as BJP leaders across the country criticised the “attack on press freedom”. Leader of opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said it was an attempt of suppressing anti-government voices. Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh said the case was reopened for the investigation and every angle, including the roles of police officers investigating the case then, will be looked into. He said there was no question of political vendetta or politics of revenge as the case was clearly established as abetment of suicide Goswami and the Maharashtra government have been at loggerheads over a host of issues this year, with Republic TV particularly critical of the state police’s handling of the Palghar lynching case, the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, while the journalist was recently accused by the force of being involved an alleged rigging of television ratings.
On the abetment to suicide case, Alibag police claimed that the case was earlier closed on the basis of the statement given by the accused, claiming that Naik had failed to do the work on time and also there were lot of shortcomings, because of which the payment was not made. The accused had claimed that because Naik had not finished the work, they had to hire other designers to finish the work. But Alibag police told the court that the previous probe had not mentioned the names of other designers. Police officials claimed they would want to question Goswami and two other accused about the contractors who finished the remaining work.
Alibag police officers also said they had found several lacunae in the closure report submitted by the previous investigating officer, and hence had sought permission to further investigate the case. Alibag police officials in their remand application, stated that the notices have been issued to many witnesses, including those examined by the previous investigating officer.
Alibag police officials also claimed that during their investigation that they found all the accused resisting to release payment to Naik. The police also claimed that the accused had allegedly issued a debit note to Naik’s company against his repeated demand for payment of the work done by him. However, when they went to verify the records with Naik’s company, the staff had no knowledge or record about the debit note allegedly issued by the accused. The police also alleged that they found no evidence of proper service of debit notes to Naik. The police claimed that they looked for various communications and messages exchanged between Naik and his company with the accused and their company, but found no mention of the alleged debit note. Further, the debit note, which the accused company supposedly had given to Naik, had neither the signature of the issuer or of the receiver, which the prosecution claimed as mandatory.
The police also claimed the accused had threatened Naik’s wife and daughter, and had also tried to offer money to close the case, and that they feared that the accused could try to threaten and influence other witnesses in the case.
Meanwhile, an IPS officer of the rank of deputy commissioner of police from Mumbai Police confirmed that another FIR was lodged against Goswami, his wife and son and said that a case under section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 504 (intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (common intention) of Indian Penal Code has been registered against Goswami and four others for resisting police personnel from the local crime branch of Raigad police who had gone to arrest him.
Besides sections 353, 504, 506, 34 of IPC, section 3 of Prevention of Defacement of Public Property Act has also been invoked against Goswami, two of his family members, two unknown persons, for obstructing, assaulting, verbally abusing and intimidating a police officer on duty and also for tearing up government papers for informing the arrest of a person, at the NM Joshi Marg police station, on the complaint of a police officer from Raigad police, said Mumbai police spokesperson DCP (Operation) Chaitanya Siriprolu.
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