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Supreme Court grants bail to Arnab Goswami in 2018 suicide case, directs Maharashtra police to release him immediately

"If we don't interfere in this case today we will walk on path of destruction. If left to me I won't watch the channel and you may differ in ideology but Constitutional courts will have to protect such freedoms," said Supreme Court in a scathing observation.

The Supreme Court of India has ordered the immediate release of Republic TV chief and two other co-accused after granting an interim bail in connection with the suicide case filed against them by the Maharashtra government.

A Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justice Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra hearing the petition said that Bombay High Court made an error in rejecting the application for grant of interim bail on technical grounds. The apex court also directed the Raigad police to ensure the compliance of the order of release of Arnab Goswami forthwith.

The Supreme Court also asked Arnab Goswami and two other accused to execute a personal bond for an amount of Rs 50,000 for release on interim bail.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard a special leave petition filed by Republic TV Editor-in-Chief, Arnab Goswami seeking interim bail in the case concerning the suicide of interior designer, Anvay Naik and the mysterious death of mother Kumud Naik.

Arnab Goswami had challenged a Bombay High Court order of November 9 which had rejected the bail plea while asking him to move Sessions court for regular bail. The case filed against Arnab Goswami by the Mumbai Police pertains to the suicide of an interior designer named Anvay Naik.

In May 2018, an FIR was filed against Arnab Goswami after an interior designer had committed suicide in Mumbai. In a suicide note, Anvay Naik claimed Goswami owed him a total of Rs 83 lakh. The note also said that one Feroze Sheikh had owed him Rs 4 crore and another person Nitesh Sarda had owned him Rs 55 lakh. Based on the suicide note, the family of Naik had filed an abetement of suicide case against Goswami and the two others. However, police found no evidence that the three named in the note were responsible for Naik’s suicide, and had filed a closure report. The court had accepted the report, effectively closing the case.

All three accused has denied that they abated the suicide. Republic has said that out of total contract of around Rs 6 crore, some amount was held back as there were defects in the work done by the Naik’s firm. According to the contract signed, full payment was to be made after rectifying defects. On the other hand, Sheikh’s lawyers have said that they have made full payment, and they have documentary evidence proving that there are no due amount to be paid by them to Naik’s company.

However, during the last few months, Maharashtra government has launched several false cases against Republic TV, and in part of that, the closed case was also re-opened by police on the orders of the home minister.

Senior Advocate Harish Salve appeared for Arnab Goswami, while Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for Shiva Sena-led Maharashtra government.

Arnab Goswami is a collateral damage, says Harish Salve representing Republic TV chief

Appearing on behalf of Arnab Goswami, Harish Salve argued that his client is a target of collateral damage and added that when petition was filed, the order of Magistrate was not there. He urged the court to see the malice on part of the State needs to be seen at.

“We are past FIR stage and it was lodged way back in 2018 after which it was probed and closure report was filed. A closure report was filed in April 2019,” Salve apprised the court regarding the timeline of the suicide case re-opened against Arnab Goswami.

Advocate Salve also mentioned to the Supreme Court on how Anvay Naik had “murdered” his mother and then committed suicide. He also submitted documents to show that amount was paid by Arnab to all vendors and also informed the court about ‘Concorde designs‘, the company run by Naik’s company was financially stressed for the last seven years.

Case was re-opened after Republic TV’s coverage on Palghar case

Salve added that the matter remained silent till May 2020, however, picked up after Republic TV’s coverage on Palghar incidents took place. Alleging a witch-hunt by the Maharashtra government against Arnab Goswami, Salve said that the Maharashtra Home Minister directed the DGP to re-investigate the suciide case even after closure report was filed in the case.

Salve also mentioned how Goswami was blamed for allegedly making inflammatory statements regarding the migrant gathering at Bandra. The Shiv Sena’s letter to cable operators to ban Republic was also pointed out by Arnab Goswami’s counsel highlighting the vendetta by the Maharashtra government.

“The letter by the Secretary of Assembly to Speaker had earned him a contempt notice from CJI where he attempted to threaten a person from approaching Supreme Court,” Harish Salve said to the Supreme Court seeking relief for Arnab Goswami.

Salve, citing the privilege motion moved in the Maharashtra assembly for questioning Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, said, ” It is appalling that he was held up for referring to the CM in a single worded salutation and this is a breach of privilege?”

The counsel representing Arnab Goswami also apprised the top court regarding the Hansa Research’s petition in the Bombay HC alleging harassment by the Mumbai Police to make false statements against Republic TV.

Harish Salve also questioned why would Naik’s family needed two years to challenge the order passed by the magistrate court that had issued a closure report in the case. “Prima facie link between accused and suicide cannot be created. The judge should have released him on bond. That was not to be. Hence this plea before you. Not just quashing FIR,” Salve urged the top court.

Salve also alleged that the Mumbai police will do what they have done in Hansa case and will keep coercing witnesses if the court did not interfere in the case.

Dangerous precedent to re-open a closed case for investigation by Executive order, says Salve

Senior Advocate Harish Salve also mentioned how Maharashtra government has a set a dangerous precedent by re-investigating a case even after magistrate had accepted an A summary in the case.

“Truth has a nasty habit of sneaking out. They state that since police has been directed to reinvestigate they are doing so. Now who ordered this?,” asked Harish Salve, to which Justice Chandrachud responded by saying it was ordered by none other than Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

Advocate Salve said that the police was directed to investigate and they are telling the Magistrate that they filed a closure report but they are not saying that report was accepted. Now on the basis of the this, Section 164 CrPC was invoked and Arnab was arrested, Salve mentioned.

Salve also pointed out that for abetment there are judgments that show that mens real intention is the most important aspect on part of the accused. “For abetment there must be direct and indirect act of the commission of the offence. If tomorrow, a person commits suicide in Maharashtra and blames Govt, then will the Chief minister be arrested,” he asked the Supreme Court.

Is Arnab Goswami a terrorist? asks Harish Salve

Arguing on behalf of Arnab Goswami, Harish Salve posed a strong question to Maharashtra government asking, “Is Goswami a terrorist, is there a murder charge on him ? Why can’t he be give bail?”

Meanwhile, he added that there was no personal relationship between Arnab Goswami and Anvay Naik and mere contractual dispute cannot be abetment to suicide, Harish Salve submitted before the court.

Senior Advocate Gopal Shankaranarayanan also made submissions for the co-accused Firoz Muhammed Sheikh and added that the accused persons had no connection. However, the FIR mentions that there was a ‘common intention’ despite they were absolute strangers.

“Firoz Md Sheikh is a director of the company which hired another company which in turn gave contract to Anvay Naik. The principle in ‘Sunil Bharati Mittal’ case that criminal liability of company cannot be extrapolated will apply here,” submitted Advocate Shankaranarayanan on behalf of accused Sheikh saying that there are five levels of separation between the accused and the deceased.

Taking all the submissions into account, Justice Chandrachud said the case cannot be a case for custodial interrogation.

If we don’t interfere in this case today we will walk on path of destruction, says Supreme Court

Justice Chandrachud, hearing the plea, said that the allegations against Goswami are that the deceased had a total of 6.45 crores due and Goswami was to pay 88 Lakhs and asked whether owing money to a person and that person committing suicide would lead to abetment.

“Deceased was suffering from “manasik tadpan” as in FIR or mental stress? For Section 306, abetment there needs to be actual incitement. Does one owes money to another and they commit suicide – would it be abetment?” Justice Chandrachud asked Kapil Sibal representing Maharashtra government.

Justice Chandrachud added, “Such cases comes between husband and wife. But here is there an active incitement to suicide? Can you say that it is a case for custodial interrogation? High Court has written 56 pages order but had not dealt with the basic question… was an offence made out prima facie?” 

Justice Chandrachud also asked whether it will not be a travesty of justice if someone is denied bail. Slamming Bombay High Court, Justice Chandrachud said High Court writes pages on why habeas corpus is not maintainable when that prayer was given up in beginning.

“If we don’t interfere in this case today we will walk on path of destruction. If left to me I won’t watch the channel and you may differ in ideology but Constitutional courts will have to protect such freedoms,” said Supreme Court in a scathing observation.

Citing similar cases of state overreach in arresting individuals, Justice Chandrachud pointed how a woman was hauled up for a tweet in West Bengal as she criticised the lockdown enforcement. She was issued summons under 41A. Is this fair? This cannot happen, he observed.

“Forget Arnab Goswami for a moment, we are a Constitutional court. The other day, a young BSC nursing student who was in a relationship with the constable later realised that constable was married. She commits suicide. But then he applied for anticipatory bail and all lower courts denied,” he added.

“If we as a Constitutional court do not lay down law and protect liberty, then who will?” the Supreme Court said while granting bail to Arnab Goswami.

Justice Chandrachud also said that the victim is entitled to recourse as in proper and fair probe. Answer is simple. If you don’t like a channel then don’t watch, the Supreme Court judge observed.

Mumbai Police arrested Arnab Goswami in a 2018-suicide case

Arnab was arrested on Wednesday for a now-reopened 2018 abatement of the suicide case of an architect, Anvay Naik. In his suicide note, the architect has blamed a few people, including Arnab Goswami, for not paying dues. Later, the court had closed the case after the Raigad police filed a closure report, but it was reopened in May 2020 by the Maharashtra government.

Continuing their witch-hunt against Republic TV chief, the Mumbai Police had barged into the residence and had arrested Arnab Goswami. The Mumbai Police had physically manhandled him as they tried to detain him in a 2018 abetment to suicide case that was already closed.

A team of Mumbai Police arrested Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami after they physically assaulted and dragged him by grabbing his hair. In a shocking act, a large contingent of Mumbai Police was seen present at Goswami’s residence on Wednesday morning. In the below video, it can be seen how officials of the Mumbai Police were manhandling the Republic TV chief.

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