New Delhi, November 6: Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami failed to get relief from the Bombay High Court Friday in a 2018 suicide abetment case, as the hearing on his petition remained inconclusive.
There was, however, some reprieve for him when a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, issued a contempt notice to the secretary of Maharashtra Assembly for threatening to penalise Goswami for approaching the top court against a breach of privilege notice.
The breach of privilege notice by the legislative house secretary alleged that Goswami had made derogatory remarks against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
The top court also ordered that Goswami will not be arrested pursuant to proceedings initiated in this case, The Print reported. It also said the letter was sent to him with an “intention to intimidate” Goswami for petitioning the top court.
In the Bombay High Court, a bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and M.S. Karnik agreed to hold a special hearing Saturday to hear Goswami’s petition seeking quashing of the 2018 case.
In his plea, Goswami questioned the police for re-investigating the case given that a closure report filed in 2019 was accepted by the magistrate. He also said that the police did not take the court’s prior permission to re-investigate the case.
The senior journalist, arrested by Raigad Police on 4 November, is in judicial custody for 14 days. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Alibaug trial court had remanded him to judicial custody while declining a police request for custodial interrogation.
The high court had Thursday made it clear that it would not pass any order without hearing the state police and Adnya Naik, on whose complaint the police had commenced a re-investigation into the abetment to suicide case. Adnya is the daughter of architect Anvay Naik who allegedly committed suicide along with his mother Kumud over non-payment of dues by Republic TV.
The CJI-headed Supreme Court bench took strong exception to the contents of the Maharashtra Assembly secretary’s letter to Goswami. The bench called it an “unprecedented” act with a “tendency to bring the administration of justice into disrepute”.
In his letter, written on 13 October, the secretary of the legislative assembly “threatened” to impose penalty on Goswami for breaching the “confidentiality of the House” by approaching the top court, despite being told that the proceedings were “confidential”.
The top court also directed the secretary’s presence during the next hearing, which will be after two weeks, to get his response as to why he should not be punished for contempt of court.
Goswami’s counsel, senior advocate Harish Salve, drew the court’s attention to the secretary’s letter. Salve alleged that the Maharashtra government had threatened Goswami, saying he would have to spend his Diwali in jail.
“There is no doubt that if a citizen of India is deterred in any way from approaching this court, in the exercise of his right under Article 32, it would amount to a serious interference in the administration of justice in the country,” the top court’s order said.
Goswami’s petition in the Supreme Court has been filed under Article 32 — a writ jurisdiction that can be invoked if there is a violation of a fundamental right. The bench also remarked that the secretary would have been “well advised to understand that right to approach this court under Article 32 is a fundamental right”.
“This is definitely a serious matter and amounts to contempt,” the court noted, while appointing senior advocate Viraj Dattar as amicus curiae so that it can get an independent opinion in the case.
In the Bombay High Court, Salve said there was no relationship between Goswami and the person who committed suicide. Their relationship was purely commercial, he said.
“The conduct for abetment to suicide must be direct and proximate. The magistrate had rightly accepted the closure report of the police,” he added.
Salve also cited a Supreme Court judgment in which it held that mere use of abusive words for not paying back money borrowed will not amount to abetment to suicide. “The intention of the accused to aid or instigate or abet the deceased to commit suicide is necessary,” he said.
The court, however, doubted whether it could hear Goswami on bail when Salve advanced arguments to release him. The judges told the senior counsel that they were not authorised to hear bail applications, according to the roster settled by the Chief Justice.
Salve said the court could do so since Goswami had in his petition challenged the premise of the case. He then also informed the court about the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly where Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had discussed about Goswami and also the abetment to suicide case.
The senior counsel contended that the state government was acting out of malice. Salve went on to count the number of FIRs already registered against Goswami in the state.