SC grants bail to Arnab amidconcerns over prompt hearing
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami in a judgement that sought to protect the liberty of individuals, although both the promptness with which it heard the case, and the judgement itself came in for criticism.
The court ordered the release of Goswami and two others in an abetment to suicide case dating back to May 2018, allowing the accused to be released from jail on execution of personal bond of Rs 50,000.
The order came on separate appeals filed by the three accused against a Bombay high court order of November 9 refusing them interim bail.
Watch: Arnab Goswami leaves from jail after getting bail from Supreme Court
Goswami was lodged at Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai after his arrest on November 4.
The trio are accused in an abetment to suicide case filed in May 2018 by the wife of architect Anvay Naik who died by suicide that year and left a suicide note naming Goswami, Niteesh Sarda, and Farooq Sheikh, whose companies owed him money for services rendered.
The apex bench said in its short order (following a long hearing): “We are of the view that the high court was in error of rejecting the application for 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,” the court said.
Senior advocate Harish Salve appearing for Goswami sought to paint a picture that his client was being targeted by the state .
The bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee were of the view that a person, whosoever it be, cannot be targeted by state and that constitutional courts are duty-bound to protect the liberty of citizens.
“We are dealing with a person’s liberty. Across the country, if this court is not to interfere today, we are treading on a path of destruction of liberty....you may dislike a person’s ideology and challenge it but if this is what our States will do to nail persons, we have to put across this message to all high courts to preserve the liberty of citizens,” the bench said. The top court noted with anguish that in case after case coming before them, high courts are not exercising their jurisdiction.
However, activists and lawyers said the same benchmark isn’t being applied to other cases.
Advocate Sunil Fernandes said, “Very recently on October 29, the Supreme Court refused to grant interim bail on medical grounds to 81-year old Telugu poet and writer Varavara Rao, who is an accused in the Elgar Parishad case. Repeated bail pleas filed by him over the past 22 months have not resulted in any positive order from either the Bombay high court or the Supreme Court. Similar is the situation with regard to social activist Sudha Bhardwaj, another co-accused in the same case who is in jail since August 28, 2018.”
Congress leader Milind Deora tweeted, “Henceforth, I hope the principle that bail is the rule & jail an exception applies to media trials & all urgent pleas — regardless of the accused’s background or profile,”
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said while she agrees with the Supreme Court’s views on right to liberty, it has been selective when it comes to Kashmiris. “Agree with SCs outrage on right to liberty. But sadly this outrage has been selective as there are hundreds of Kashmiris & journalists languishing in jails on baseless charges. Forget court ruling they didn’t even get a hearing. Why no sense of urgency for their liberty?” Mufti wrote on Twitter.
The prompt listing of the case, filed on Tuesday, also came in for criticism with Dushyant Dave, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president, writing to secretary general of the top court lodging a “strong protest” on “selective listing” of Goswami’s interim bail plea.
“While thousands of citizens remain in jails, languishing for long periods while their matters filed before the Supreme Court are not getting listed for weeks and months, it is, to say the least, deeply disturbing as to how and why every time Goswami approaches the Supreme Court, his matter gets listed instantly,” Dave wrote on Tuesday.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the bench also commented on the first information report (FIR) involved in the case, which, some experts said, weakens it (the FIR) .
The court said, “in a matter of this nature where some amount is already paid and the person commits suicide due to financial stress will you hold the head of the company for abetment to suicide. In most companies work orders are given out as a labour contract... Will it not be travesty of justice to deny bail to such a person when his quashing petition is pending?”
The court observed that the Bombay high court gave no findings on whether prima facie offence was made out .
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Maharashtra government, pointed out that the investigation of the case is not before this bench, and that the Bombay high court order of November 9 allowed the accused to approach trial judge for bail which is to be heard on November 12.
Sibal said: “In 99 out of 100 cases concerning personal liberty, I am on the other side.”
Justice Chandrachud said: “All the more reason that what we do today will define what we will do in those 99 cases.”
However, Sibal also added: “A Kerala journalist was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police when he was going to Hathras to report. We came to this court under Article 32. The court said go to lower court. Petition posted after four weeks. Such things are also happening.”
His reference was to Siddique Kappan, who was arrested on his way to Hathras to meet the family of the 19-year-old Dalit woman who died after being allegedly gang-raped in the district..The UP Police had arrested Kappan along with three others,claiming that they had links with Popular Front of India and its affiliate in Mathura.
Appearing for Maharashtra Police and the investigating officer, senior advocate Amit Desai argued that the high court could not be blamed for not granting bail as it was hearing a habeas corpus petition.
The HC noted that remedy of bail will be taken up by sessions judge on November 12 while posting the prayer for quashing FIR for consideration on December 10.
The other accused represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Gopal Shankarnarayanan argued that the three persons named in the suicide note are unconnected and if this is the standard adopted, heads of all companies, even ministers will be in jail if employees and government servants die by suicide due to unpaid dues.
Goswami on Wednesday evening walked out the Taloja jail in adjoining Raigad district, hours after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail.