SC grants interim bail to Arnab Goswami, 2 others in abetment to suicide case

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New Delhi, Nov 11 (PTI) The Supreme Court Wednesday granted interim bail to journalist Arnab Goswami in the 2018 abetment to suicide case, saying it will be a 'travesty of justice' if personal liberty is curtailed.

The apex court also expressed concern over state governments targeting some individuals on the basis of ideology and difference of opinion.

A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said if state governments target individuals, they must realise then that there is apex court to protect the liberty of citizens.

The top court granted interim bail to two others in the case -- Neetish Sarda and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh -- on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each and directed that they shall not tamper with the evidence and shall cooperate in the probe The bench said that the Bombay High Court “was in error” in rejecting the pleas filed by Goswami and these two persons seeking interim bail in the case.

“We are of the considered view that the high court was in error in rejecting the applications for the 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,” the bench said in its order.

“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 concerned jail authorities and the Superintendent of Police, Raigad are directed to ensure that this order is complied with forthwith,” it said.

The bench said that submissions of the lawyers appearing in the matter before it would be “evaluated in the judgment for which reasons shall follow. The judgment is reserved”.

The apex court was hearing the appeals against the high court’s November 9 order rejecting the pleas, including that of Goswami, for grant of interim bail.

Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, has challenged the high court order refusing to grant interim bail and asking him to move the trial court for relief.

The accused were arrested by Alibaug police in Maharashtra's Raigad district 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.

“We are seeing case after case where high courts are not granting bail and failing to protect personal liberty of people,” said the bench.

The bench asked Maharashtra whether there was any need for custodial interrogation of Goswami, and said the issue pertains to “personal liberty”.

It observed that Indian democracy is “extraordinarily resilient” and the Maharashtra government must ignore all this (Arnab’s taunt on TV).

“Whatever be his ideology. Least, I don’t even watch his channel. But, if in this case Constitutional Courts do not interfere today, we are travelling the path of destruction undeniably,” Justice Chandrachud said, adding, “the point is can you deny personal liberty of a person on these allegations”.

“If the government targets individuals on this basis...You may not like television channels but this should not happen,” the apex court said in the day-long hearing during the Diwali vacation.

“Is not paying up money abetment to suicide? It will be a travesty of justice if bail is not granted while FIR is pending,” the bench told senior advocate Kapil Sibal who was appearing for the state.

“’A’ does not pay money to 'B', and is this the case of abetment of suicide? If the high court don't act in matters like this, there will be complete destruction of personal liberty. We are deeply concerned for this. If we don't act in matters like this then it will be very disturbing,” the court said.

Justice Chandrachud observed that courts are being attacked for judgements delivered by them and, “I often ask my law clerk and they say that Sir, please don't look at tweets”.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, referred to various cases lodged against him and the channel and alleged that Maharashtra government is targeting him.

“This is not an ordinary case and the Bombay High Court being a constitutional court should have taken note of the incidents. Is this a case where Arnab Goswami is put in Taloja jail with hardened criminals,” Salve said.

“I would urge the case to be transferred to the CBI and punish him if he is guilty. What will happen if a person is granted ad-interim bail,” he said.

Sibal referred to the facts of the case and said that details of investigation conducted in the matter are not before the apex court and if it intervenes at this stage, it would set a dangerous precedent.

Senior lawyer Amit Desai, also appearing for the state, said this is not a case where the court should exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction to grant bail at interim stage.

Apart from seeking the interim bail, the journalist and other accused had also sought a direction from the high court for staying the investigation into the case and quash the FIR against them.

The high court will hear their pleas seeking to quash the FIR on December 10.

Goswami was arrested on November 4 from his Lower Parel residence in Mumbai and taken to Alibaug in neighbouring Raigad district.

He and the two other accused were later produced before a magistrate who refused to send them in police custody and remanded them in judicial custody till November 18. PTI SJK ABA MNL SA