New Delhi, November 11: The Supreme Court on November 11 ordered the Maharashtra government to forthwith release Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and two others on interim bail in an abetment to suicide case, saying personal liberty is increasingly becoming a casualty in the country.

“People are now put in jail for a tweet… We are travelling through the path of destruction of liberty. You may not like his ideology. Left to myself, I will not watch his channel. But citizens are sent to jail, high courts don’t grant bail. We have to send a strong message,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, heading the Bench, orally observed.

The Bench, also comprising Justice Indira Banerjee, directed Goswami and two others to execute a personal bond of ₹50,000 each with the jail superintendent. The court said they should co-operate with the probe and not influence witnesses, The Hindu reported.

Goswami had appealed to the apex court after the Bombay High Court refused him bail on November 9.

During the day-long hearing, Justice Chandrachud referred to a recent case of a woman who was hauled up by the West Bengal government for a tweet. “We are deeply concerned. If this is how human liberty is persecuted, the Supreme Court has to be there for every person… We are getting cases for personal liberty in multitudes… Our democracy is extraordinarily resilient. Our point is governments should ignore them [taunts on TV]. You think what they say makes any difference in the elections?” Justice Chandrachud observed.

The court asked the Maharashtra government whether custodial interrogation of Goswami was really necessary in a case of abetment to suicide in which a person may have taken his own life under financial stress.

“There has to be an active incitement to make a case of abetment to suicide. A person has not paid — does this amount to an act of incitement to suicide? Can a person be sent to custodial interrogation, whoever it is…” Justice Chandrachud asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Maharashtra.

“In 99 out of 100 cases concerning personal liberty, I appear on the other side,” Sibal commented. 

“All the more reason that what we do today has to define what we will do in those 99 cases,” Justice Chandrachud replied.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, for Goswami, urged the court to transfer the case to the CBI.

“Will heavens fall if he is released? The entire exercise is steeped root and branch in malafide… A man kills himself as he has to pay some dues to the government, will a case of abetment to suicide be launched against the Chief Minister?” Salve asked. Salve said a constitutional court should have said “not one more day in jail”.

“Bail and not jail is the rule. He [Goswami] was arrested on November 4. He is in jail till November 11,” Salve argued.

Senior advocate Amit Desai and Sibal, for Maharashtra, said Goswami’s plea for regular bail is coming up for hearing in trial court on November 12. The apex court should not intervene at this stage.

“His personal liberty is not taken away. The provision of Section 439 CrPC [regular bail] is very much there. As My Lord said there is a multitude of bail cases, people are languishing in jail. Here he is getting a hearing every four days,” Desai submitted.

Both Desai and senior advocate C.U. Singh, for the family of the victim, said the apex court should not be seen to “short-circuit” criminal procedure by intervening at this point. “It is up to the bail judge to consider the material and decide,” Desai submitted.

Desai said an offence has been committed and the police could further investigate till the court frames charges against the accused.

Sibal submitted that there is a judicial remand order against Goswami. The remand was based on material placed on record by the police. He addressed Justice Chandrachud’s comments on why the Bombay High Court did not delve into whether it was prima facie sustainable or not.

“You can’t just look at an FIR, which is only an information of a crime, and decide whether or not to grant bail. That is a dangerous principle,” Sibal argued. He said Goswami was wrong to think an ‘A’ summary is the same as a “closure report” in a case.

“Closure report is filed when no crime is detected. ‘A’ summary says there is a crime but no evidence leads to an accused. Power still lies with police to probe further on the basis of fresh material,” he said.

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