HC refuses to grant interim relief to Arnab in suicide abetment case; dist court says arrest 'prime facie illegal'

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Mumbai, Nov 5 (PTI) High-profile TV journalist Arnab Goswami will spend a second night in a makeshift prison at a school after the Bombay High Court on Thursday refused to grant interim relief in a 2018 suicide abetment case even as a district court while sending him to two-week judicial custody a day earlier observed his arrest 'appears to be prima facie illegal'.

The plea by Goswami, 47, for interim bail was posted by the high court for hearing on Friday.

Goswami was arrested on Wednesday morning by Raigad police from his residence at Lower Parel in Mumbai for allegedly abetting the suicide of architect and interior designer Anvay Naik, and was taken to the Alibaug police station in neighbouring Raigad district. Alibaug, a coastal town, is around 90 km from Mumbai.

After being remanded in judicial custody late on Wednesday night, Goswami spent the night at the Alibaug Nagar Parishad School, which has been designated as a COVID-19 centre for the Alibaug prison, an official said. Two others were arrested along wih Arnab.

The arrest triggered a political slugfest between the BJP on the one side and the Congress and the Shiv Sena on the other. The Sena is heading the coalition government in Maharashtra that included the Congress and the NCP.

The Raigad Police, meaanwhile, filed a revision application before the Alibaug sessions court, challenging the order passed by the magistrate. It had sought police remand for 14 days.

Alibaug Chief Judicial Magistrate Sunaina Pingle after perusal of the case diary and other relevant documents had noted that the prosecution failed to prima facie establish a link between the deceased and the accused persons, according to the detailed order made available to the lawyers in the case on Thursday.

'Taking into consideration the reasons behind the arrest of the accused persons and the arguments put forth by the accused persons, the arrest appears to be prima facie illegal,' the magistrate said while remanding them in judicial custody till November 18.

Goswami moved the high court against the 'illegal arrest', sought a stay to the investigation and a direction to the police to release him. He also sought that the FIR against him be quashed.

A division bench of Justices S S Shinde and M S Karnik directed Goswami to make the complainant in the case, Akshata Naik, Anvay's wife, a respondent to his plea.

'We have to hear all the parties concerned before considering the interim relief sought. We have to also hear the complainant as the family of the deceased has filed a petition here seeking transfer of the probe,' the bench said.

'The respondents (the Maharashtra government and the complainant) are entitled to respond....We will consider the interim relief sought tomorrow,' it added.

Senior counsel Aabad Ponda, appearing for Goswami, said a bail plea filed before the Alibaug magistrate's court has since been withdrawn.

'The magistrate had not given clarity on when the bail plea would be heard and had also expressed difficultly in hearing the same as the case lies in the jurisdiction of the sessions court.

'Hence, we are seeking for interim bail here in high court,' Ponda said.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, also appearing for Goswami, argued that no prejudice will be caused to the prosecution if he was released on bail.

The court, however, said it cannot consider the issue of bail without giving the respondents a chance to argue.

Ponda also argued that the police have resurrected a dead case in which a closure report had been filed and accepted by the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Alibaug by an order dated April 16, 2019.

The petition also alleged that Goswami and his son were assaulted by the police team when it arrested the journalist in a 'motivated, false and closed case'.

'This is another attempt of political witch-hunt and vendetta politics against the petitioner and his channel,' it alleged.

A case that was 'decisively closed' was reopened for forcibly arresting the petitioner 'in a prima facie act of revenge and vengeance for his news coverage', it said.

It claimed that in May 2018, the police had recorded the statements of Goswami and two senior officials of Republic TV, and he had also provided documents to the police about the business transactions with Naik's company.

Goswami's company ARG Outlier had paid over 90 per cent of the amount due to Naik's firm Concorde Designs as per the contract, it claimed.

'In July 2019, the entire balance amount due was transferred to the bank account of Naik's company but the amount returned because the account was inoperative,' it said.

In the order, CJM Pingle also noted that the chain of circumstances, the reason behind the deaths of Anvay Naik and his mother Kumodini Naik and its connection with the accused persons are not established by the prosecution.

'There is no cogent evidence submitted that warrants this court to remand the arrested accused to police custody,' the magistrate had said, The magistrate also noted that if the police case is to be accepted that Anvay Naik took the drastic step of committing suicide due to non-payment of dues by Goswami and the two other accused, then the question arises as to why his (Anvay Naik's) mother Kumodini Naik committed suicide.

'Did she (Kumodini) die by suicide? There is no clear answer to this by the prosecution. The police have been unable to establish a link between the deaths of Kumodini Naik and Anvay Naik and the three arrested accused,' the court said.

While refusing to remand the three accused in police custody, the magistrate had also noted that the police have not been able to specifically point out the so-called lacunae in the probe done by the previous police team in 2018.

The magistrate had also said the case was investigated by the police in 2018 and an 'A' summary report seeking closure of the case was submitted before the court concerned in 2019. PTI SP AVI GK KRK VT GSN GSN GSN GSN