If State Govts Targets Individual They Must Realise That SC Is Here To Protect Them; Tells HCs To Protect Human Liberty: SC

It cannot be denied that if Arnab Goswami was able to step freely out of prison after 8 days, it is only and only because of the Bench of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee of Apex Court who were listening his interim bail plea along with three others! The Apex Court order came on separate appeals filed by the three accused against a Bombay High Court order of November 9 refusing them interim bail. Arnab was lodged at Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai after his arrest on November 4. All the High Courts must now introspect most seriously that why they fail to speak in favour of personal liberty of citizens which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution which clearly states that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Asking every High Court to “exercise your jurisdiction to protect human liberty…the ultimate reason for our existence as Constitutional courts,” the vacation Bench of Justices Dr DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee pulled up the state governments for going after individuals they do not agree with. While being critical of the Maharashtra government over its handling of the case involving Goswami and two others, the Bench said that, “If this is what our state governments will do to people who have to be nailed, I think the Supreme Court has to be there for every citizen.”

For esteemed readers exclusive benefit, it must be revealed here that 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. The Division Bench of Justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik was hearing a criminal petition filed by Anvay Naik’s daughter Adnya, 28 which sought the calling of records from the Chief Judicial Magistrate; shifting of the investigation to the Mumbai Crime Branch; and the conduct of an inquiry against all the officers involved behind filing the ‘A’ summary report in the case.

Be it noted, the plea of Adnya relies upon an alleged suicide note found next to the bodies of the deceased that read: “We are committing suicide due to the loss following our (Concorde Designs Private Limited). We both are directors Anvay M Naik and Kumud M Naik and money is stuck and following owners of respected companies are not paying our legitimate dues. Mr Goswami owes him Rs 83 lakhs for Bombay Dyeing studio project, Feroz Shaikh of IcastX/Skimedia owed Naik Rs 4 crore for his project at Andheri and Nitesh Sarda of IcastX/Skimedia is alleged to have not paid Rs 55 lakh for his projects at Magarpatta and Baner.” The deaths occurred on May 5, 2018.

As it turned out, the Bench of Justice Dr DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee while ordering the trio release said unequivocally that, “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.”

Truth be told, Justice Dr DY Chandrachud has minced no words to hold that, “To make out a case of abetment, there has to be active incitement and encouragement. If money is owed to a person, is that a case of abetment to suicide? A owes money to B. B due to financial stress commit suicide. Will it attract offence under Section 306 IPC? We are dealing with personal liberty here and because he was owed money, Naik committed suicide due to financial stress. Is this a case for custodial interrogation?”

On similar lines, Harish Salve who is one of the most eminent, senior and distinguished lawyer of the Supreme Court of India and former Solicitor General also vociferously told the court in most eloquent, effective and elegant language that  the case against Arnab Goswami did not stand the test of basic ingredients required to establish an offence of abetment to suicide under Section 306 IPC. Salve very rightly asked and wondered that, “Last month a man in Maharashtra committed suicide saying the Chief Minister failed to pay salary! What you do? Arrest the Chief Minister?” Salve is hundred percent right on this!

It goes without saying that if Uddhav Thackeray can justify arrest of Arnab Goswami on this stupid ground that someone has named him then he himself should also come forward and go to the same jail where Arnab Goswami is lodged when someone names him which I believe has happened many times! What nonsense is this! Will Uddhav Thackeray be ever ready to go to jail on this ridiculous ground that someone has named him in his suicide plea?

Needless to say, this alone explains why Justice Dr DY Chandrachud even remarked that, “It will be a travesty of justice if bail is not granted while FIR is pending.” Harish Salve too rightly questioned that, “Do you arrest a man in a three-year-old FIR and put him in jail on a Diwali week and then transfer him to Taloja jail with hardened criminals?” This is most disgraceful and what is worse is that Arnab was arrested as if he was a dreaded terrorist or a criminal and he and also his son and family members were assaulted by Bombay Police as he pointed out while talking to the press!

It is high time and the police too must listen to the likes of Yashovardhan Azad who too is himself a former IPS officer and he very rightly points out in his editorial titled “The police must stop acting like a political instrument” in Hindustan Times newspaper dated November 6, 2020 that, “Caught in the crossfire between the states and the Centre, the police needs to assert itself to remain true to its commitment to the law. The forces cannot afford to stoop so low as to get involved in punny dogfights. How long can they serve the diametrically opposite demands of successive regimes? The police leadership should stand up strongly against such arrests and indiscriminate use of draconian laws.” He also rightly questions that, “However, it is strange to see the police waking up to it only amid the thick of battle between Goswami, the Uddhav Thackeray and Mumbai police.” How can this be lightly dismissed what Yashovardhan Azad in this very article also discloses that, “Videos have gone viral showing a large contingent of Mumbai police officials bundling the Republic TV Chief into a van. Amidst the sordid drama, the encounter cop, Sachin Vaze is said to have told Goswami, “You don’t know what I am capable of.”

What more can the Supreme Court say than this what Justice Dr DY Chandrachud who minces no words to state in simple, straight and suave language that, “If this court does not interfere today, we are travelling on the path of destruction. Forget this man (Goswami). You may not like his ideology. Left to myself, I will not watch his channel. Keep aside everything. If this is what our state governments are going to do to people who are to be nailed, then the Supreme Court has to intervene. There has to be a message to HCs – Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty. We are seeing case after case. HCs are failing to exercise jurisdiction. People are in jail for tweets!”

All the High Courts of India must pay heed to what Justice Chandrachud has held so aptly and appropriately which has to be applauded! Justice Chandrachud also referred to a recent case where the Supreme Court stayed the summons issued by the West Bengal police to a woman in Delhi to appear in Kolkata for tweeting against the State Government. Justice Chandrachud very eloquently said that, “And we are deeply concerned about this. If we don’t present human liberty in these kind of things..Forget the way he speaks and his channel and everything, we are concerned with something far broader. And that is what is of concern to me..values of human liberty which our Constitution has ascribed to our polity.”

Furthermore, Justice Chandrachud also rightly sought to send a loud and clear message that, “Let’s send the message across to every High Court. Please exercise your jurisdiction to protect human liberty. Because that’s the ultimate reason for our existence as constitutional courts.” When eminent and senior lawyer Kapil Sibal said that in 99 out of 100 cases, he is on the other side. To this, Justice Chandrachud retorted that, “The reason I told you is what we do today will apply to those 99 cases as well. The investigation could go on and the victim is entitled to a fair investigation but if governments target individuals on this basis, let’s send a message that the Supreme Court is here”.

It is high time and the Maharashtra State Government also must pay heed to what Justice Dr DY Chandrachud has remarked that, “Our democracy is extraordinarily strong and resilient. Governments should ignore tweets and move on. This is not the basis on which elections are fought. If you don’t like a channel then don’t watch it.” He also rightly remarked that, “Technicality cannot be a ground to deny someone personal liberty. This is not a case of terrorism.” Why about more than 20 police armed with AK 47 went to his house? Is he a terrorist? Why his employees are arrested and handcuffed as if they are terrorists? Why Arnab was not allowed to wear his shoes, pulled by his belt, dragged by his hair and his son assaulted as has been alleged? All this speaks very poorly on the conduct of Mumbai police for which there is every reason to feel alarmed about!

What Justice Dr DY Chandrachud has observed so commendably in Arnab Goswami’s case is brilliant and must be commended in no uncertain terms. He has certainly stated nothing but the blunt truth! This witchhunting of Arnab just because he carries some news report which are not to the liking of Maharashtra State Government as we saw in case of Palghar sadhu mob lynching case where two sadhus were beaten and stoned to death right in front of police or the Sushant Singh Rajput case or many other such cases must stop forthwith! There has to be zero tolerance for such intolerance where fiercely independent journalists like Arnab Goswami are harassed to the hilt and even their families are not spared! This is what the Apex Court has exactly sought to convey also!

Sanjeev Sirohi