After Republic Media Network Managing Director and journalist Arnab Goswami was arrested by Mumbai police on 4th November, the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Alibaug court had rejected the plea for granting his police remand. The Raigad Police had sought 14 days of police custody of Republic TV editor-in-chief, saying they need to interrogate him in custody in the 2018 abatement of suicide case which earlier closed by the court after a police investigation.
Now the court order has been made public, where the Chief Judicial Magistrate made several scathing comments describing how the police had no basis for seeking police remand, and how the arrest itself was illegal.
The lawyers of three arrested in the abetment of suicide of architect Anvay Naik case had contended that the earlier “A” Summary report closing the case was accepted by court, and it has not been contested by anyone till date, including the family of Naik. The summary report had said that there was no evidence against three accused, Arnab Goswami, Feroz Shaikh of IcastX, and Nitesh Sarda of Smartwork, which was accepted by the court. The lawyers said that once the final report is filed and same is accepted by the court, police do not have any legal right to investigating in the matter.
The accused parties also contended that the allegation of non-payment of dues is a civil case, and it can’t be linked with the suicide without any concrete proof. Feroz Shaikh’s lawyer also claimed that they have made full payment of Rs.4,78,39,521/-, and said that they have proof of cheques showing that the full payment was made and no money was due to Anvay Naik from them.
Hearing the arguments made by both the police and the three accused, Chief Judicial Magistrate Sunayana S. Pingale made the following observations:
“A” Summary report remains: The court agreed with the accused parties that the “A” Summary report which was submitted by police on 16.04.2019 and same was approved by Court remains in force. The report is till today not challenged by the complainant or any other person, and it has not been set aside by a higher court. Therefore, the report that said police found no evidence against Arnab Goswami still exists today.
Police started probe without court permission: The order by the CJM states that Investigating Officer Shri Shaikh started fresh investigation without touching the “A” summary report. Moreover, the court found that the police didn’t sought permission from the court to restart the case which was closed with court’s approval. The police only informed the court that they have started the investigation, the court didn’t issue any notice permitting the police to reopen the case. “It is not noticed from this report that permission of court is obtained anywhere,” the order states categorically.
Arrest of accused is illegal: In a very significant comment, the order by CJM states, “after taking note of the reasons of objections to police custody presented by accused 1 to 3, it seems that the arrest of the accused itself is illegal”. This implies that the court accepted the arguments made by defence lawyers and deemed that the arrest was illegal.
Kumudini Naik’s death: The Magistrate also made an important note regarding the incident that happened on 5th May 2018. The order states, even if it is accepted that Anvay Naik was being pressurised by his creditors to repay the debts, why did his mother Kumudini Naik commit suicide. Then the CJM went on to ask, “did she even commit suicide?”. It may be noted that while Anvay Naik was found hanging, his mother was found to be strangulated. Police had theorised that Anvay Naik had killed his mother before killing himself. But the suicide note had stated “we are committing suicide”.
Link between deaths and the accused not established: The court said that There is no satisfactory answer about the death of the mother from the prosecution. “The reason behind Kumudini Naik’s death, the connection with Anvay Naik’s death and its link with the three accused – this chain has not been completely established,” the court order noted.
No evidence that the previous investigation was incomplete: The court order stated that the police have failed to prove that the previous probe had shortcomings and it was incomplete, to justify a fresh probe. The police did not explain how the previous probe was incomplete, and what were the shortcomings in it. “There has been no strong reason or evidence from the prosecution over this and that’s why police custody can’t be justified”, the CJM noted.
No evidence against accused: The court said that to justify questioning in police custody, the police must have strong evidence against the accused. Such evidence must be recovered from the accused, and the accused must be confronted with it during questioning. But the police have not presented any evidence to justify police custody, which means the police have no material which the accused will be confronted with.
Evidence collected only from complainant: The order states that while it is necessary to collect evidence from the accused to confront them with, the police have collected statements and materials only from the complainant. With such one-sided material, the link of the accused with the incident can’t be established.
Role of accused not mentioned: Another significant observation from the judgement is that the police have failed to mention the allege role of the accused in the suicide. It may be noted that under the relevant IPC section 306, the accused must instigate, engage in a conspiracy or assist in committing suicide. This shows that the court has accepted the mere allegation of non-payment of dues is not enough to charge the accused under this section, and the police didn’t show how the accused were responsible for the suicide. “In that connection, it won’t be correct to probe it vaguely,” the court noted.
In summary, the court ruled that police didn’t have solid legal ground to get police custody of the three accused and that’s why would be correct to reject the demand for police custody.