In what comes as a huge relief to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, who has been in custody for a little more than a week in connection with the 2018 suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik, the Supreme Court has granted him and the other two co-accused bail. A vacation bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, which was hearing the interim bail plea filed by Arnab, said that the Bombay High Court was “in error” while rejecting the application for grant of interim bail to the news anchor and the other accused in the case. The Supreme Court granted Arnab Goswami and two other accused interim bail against a bond of Rs 50,000.
Justice Chandrachud also stated that the Supreme Court will not make observations on the legal aspects of the case, as the issue is pending in the High Court, and that it will confine itself to the point of interim relief.
During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud made it explicit that the bench was unhappy with High Courts rejecting bails, when the person in custody had rights to bail.
“We are travelling through the path of destruction of liberty. You may not like his (Arnab) ideology. Left to myself, I will not watch his channel. But a citizen is sent to jail if High Courts don't grant bail. We have to send a strong message,” Justice Chandrachud observed.
He added that these cases are then sent to the Supreme Court, which is already burdened with a lot of workload. “We must send a message today to the High Courts as well. Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. Case after case, High courts are denying personal liberty,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Weighing upon the FIR filed in Anvay Naik’s suicide in 2018, the judge said, “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 told senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the Maharashtra government.
Justice Chandrachud also went on to ask if a man dying by suicide due to financial stress was enough to make a case of abetment to suicide against those who owed the person money. “There has to be active incitement and encouragement. If money is owed to a person, is that a case of abetment to suicide?” Justice Chandrachud asked Kapil Sibal.
The Supreme Court also questioned Kapil Sibal for the need for custodial interrogation of the news anchor in an abetment to suicide case.
“I don’t even watch his (Arnab’s) channel. I never turn it on,” Justice Chandrachud said, however adding, “Governments must ignore all this. This is not the basis on which elections are fought.”
The court also observed, “Technicality cannot be a ground to deny someone personal liberty. This is not a case of terrorism.”
Appearing for Maharashtra police, senior advocate Amit Desai countered that Arnab’s personal liberty is not being taken away as he has the option of applying for regular bail.
“As My Lord said, there are a multitude of bail cases, people are languishing in jail. Here he is getting a hearing every four days,” advocate Desai said, adding that Arnab’s bail plea is scheduled to be heard on Thursday by an Alibaug court.
Desai also said that the duty of the state is to respect the victim and launch a probe. “Victims have filed a substantive petition and she has been continually knocking doors of justice,” he told the SC. “The victim had learnt about the closure report through a tweet and she filed for action against the officers as well, because according to her, the inquiry was bad,” he added.
He also added that the state of mind of the victim, which drove him to suicide, has to be considered as well. “The acts of omission and commission which drove him to suicide should be looked into. The police have to probe circumstances which led Naik to the act and if circumstances harassed him into suicide,” Desai said to the bench.
Appearing for Anvay Naik, advocate CU Singh stated that this is not a case fit for intervention from the Supreme Court at this stage, since the High Court has already given the Alibaug court four days to decide his bail plea.
“At the end of the day, this is not a case of intervention of the Supreme Court. This writ petition is an overreach when his option lies at a lower court,” CU Singh said.
“The sentiments expressed by the Court are to be cherished by all. But here, it is not about Goswami, but the fact that he has already moved a bail application yet to be heard. What kind of a message will it send to short circuit an entire process?” CU Singh asked the bench.
During the hearing, appearing for Arnab, senior advocate Harish Salve suggested that the case be transferred to the CBI. He went on to add that “the entire exercise is steeped root and branch in malafide.”
“The Magistrate should have released Arnab Goswami on a bond but, My Lord, that was not to be,” Salve told the bench. “In fact, I am applying, transfer this to the CBI and if he is guilty, send him to jail! Will heavens fall if the man is released on ad interim bail?” Salve asked in court.
Salve argued that Anvay Naik was driven to a point where he died by suicide because a payment of Rs 88 lakh was pending, and this is not a case of abetment to suicide. “The person was in financial difficulty and thereafter died by suicide, but how can it be abetment to suicide?” Salve asked.
Salve also added later during the hearing that the demand for an investigation into the suicide case against Arnab Goswami was raised in the Maharashtra Assembly, when there was a discussion against his reporting. “The Home Minister says an investigation ordered. This is where mala fide comes in,” Salve said.
“Last month a man in Maharashtra died by suicide, saying the Chief Minister failed to pay salary? What would you do? Arrest the Chief Minister?” Salve submitted in court, adding that for abetment of suicide, there must be an ‘direct and indirect act of the commission of the offence.’
There was no personal relationship between Arnab Goswami and Anvay Naik, Salve argued.
Arnab had moved the Supreme Court a day after the Bombay High Court refused to grant interim bail to him and two others in the case and had asked them to move the local court for relief. Besides the Maharashtra government, Goswami who is lodged in Taloja jail, had made the Centre, the Alibaug police station SHO, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh and Akshyata Anvay Naik as parties to his appeal.
The three 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.
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.
Goswami was initially kept at a local school which is designated as a COVID-19 quarantine centre for the Alibaug prison. He was on Sunday shifted to the Taloja jail in Raigad district after allegedly being found using a mobile phone while in judicial custody.
With PTI inputs