New Delhi, May 19: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami’s plea to transfer the Mumbai Police probe into his broadcasts concerning the Palghar mob lynching and the Bandra Station fiasco to the CBI. The apex court, however, extended his protection from arrest by another three weeks, The Hindu reported.
A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that though freedom of the Press to speak truth to power ensured free people and nation, journalistic licence was not absolute but subject to certain reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
“India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal… The exercise of that fundamental right is not absolute and is answerable to the legal regime enacted with reference to the provisions of Article 19(2),” Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the 56-page judgment for the Bench, observed.
The Bench, also comprising Justice M.R. Shah, confirmed its interim order on April 24 to transfer from Nagpur to Mumbai an FIR registered against Goswami accusing him of spreading hate through his April 21 broadcast. It said the Mumbai Police investigation into the FIR would continue.
Transfer of an ongoing probe from the State police to the CBI was not a matter of routine. It should be done sparingly and in exceptional circumstances, the court said.
Goswami had accused the Mumbai Police of mala fide and conflict of interest as they came under the Maharashtra government of which the Indian National Congress was a ruling partner. Goswami had made accusations against the Mumbai Police Commissioner. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had even intervened during the hearing in favour of a transfer to the CBI, saying the central agency was ready to accept the case. Mehta had found the conduct of the Mumbai Police “disturbing”.
But the court concluded that the transfer plea was merely to “pre-empt an investigation by the Mumbai police”.
An accused cannot choose the mode of investigation, the line of interrogation or the investigation agency for that matter, the it said categorically.
In fact, Justice Chandrachud reminded Goswami of what the court told former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the INX Media case: “It must be left to the investigating agency to proceed in its own manner in interrogation of the accused, nature of questions put to him and the manner of interrogation of the accused”.
“The displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation [as in the present case] of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of this court to transfer an investigation to the CBI”, the Supreme Court concluded.
It, however quashed complaints and FIRs, except the one being probed by the Mumbai Police, registered against him in other States. It found them all identically worded.
Justice Chandrachud observed that registration of multiple FIRs by the police on the same occurrence would be an abuse of the statutory power of investigation. Subjecting a journalist to multiple cases across several States stifled free speech, he said. “It effectively destroys the freedom of the citizen to know of the affairs of governance in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society,” Justice Chandrachud wrote.
The court said no further complaints or FIRs should be entertained on the basis of the broadcast made by Goswami on April 21. It directed the Mumbai Police Commissioner to provide security at the residence and “business establishment” of Goswami based on the threat perception.