Where personal liberty depends on affordability!
Arnab Manoranjan Goswamy who shouted for arrest of Rhea Chatterjea alleging that she abetted suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput was arrested for the same charge
Arnab Manoranjan Goswamy who shouted for arrest of Rhea Chatterjea alleging that she abetted suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput was arrested for the same charge. Justice Chandrachud, while granting bail lamented high courts not giving bail, leaving people languishing in jail for months, which had burdened the top court with bail cases. "If constitutional courts don't protect liberty, who will?" His interim order is simply giving out brief facts and concluded with interim bail. His oral observations are staple food for media next day.
At the same time, Justice Chandrachud shared his "deep concern" at the growing trend of states "targeting" those who follow a different ideology than that of the government. He recalled a case from West Bengal where a girl, who tweeted that the coronavirus was not being dealt with, was issued a police notice. "They did this, saying we will show you reality".
Chandrachud says that Arnab Goswami cannot be punished merely because his style of presenting news does not suit the state government. He advised: "Forget the way he screams and yells. I do not watch this news channel, but what concerns me is the value ascribed to human liberty. We are deeply concerned about it. Our democracy is extraordinary resilient and governments must ignore all this. This is not the basis on which elections are fought".
Path of destruction
"If constitutional courts do not interfere today, then we are travelling the path of destruction, undeniably. We must send a message to the High Courts today that please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty," Justice Chandrachud said. This is also not part of the interim order. We do not know about final judgment.
Another of his comment widely reported is: "You do not watch a channel if you do not like it. I myself prefer to cuddle with a good book," while responding to Kapil Sibal, the senior advocate who appeared for Maharashtra government and the state's police. He was right when he said judges should ignore the twitter comments on judgments.
Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Dushyant Dave wrote a letter to secretary general of Supreme Court lodging strong protest on selective listing of Arnab's bail appeal. Kapil Sibal pointed out plight of Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested while he was on his way to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, to report on the alleged gang-rape and murder of a woman. SC did not hear Kappan's petition, and the SC bench asked him to approach the trial court.
Arnab is privileged to get his case listed and secure the interim bail. The case against Arnab is for abetment to suicide under 306 of the Indian Penal Code. Mr. Anvay Naik, managing director of Concorde Designs Private Limited, and his mother Kumud were found dead in their home in Kavir village of Alibaug in May 2018. Naik was found hanging in Alibaug and his mother was found strangled to death.
Later a suicide letter was recovered naming the owners of three companies — Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, Feroz Shaikh of IcastX/Skimedia and Neetish Sarda of Smartworks — saying they owed Naik's firm Rs 83 lakh, Rs 4 crore and Rs 55 lakh respectively. Anvay Naik purportedly wrote in the note that he and his mother decided to take the extreme step as the owners of the three companies did not clear the payments.
In April 2019, the Raigad Police said there was no evidence in the case and a local court allowed the case to be closed. But the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, reopened it. The question again is whether closure and reopening of case against politically biased journalist Arnab are genuine or vitiated by political bias?
Assault on arresting officers?
One case is alleged assault on woman constable while resisting arrest was booked against Goswami under Indian Penal Code sections related to assault or using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging duty, intentional insult to provoke breach of peace, and criminal intimidation.
FIR named his wife, Samyabrata Goswami, their son and two others. Arnab Goswami has, in turn, alleged that the police assaulted him.
Cases on TV shows
Five other cases concerning reports and his TV shows have been registered against Goswami and Republic TV by the MVA government so far. BJP is leading the mantle of opposition in Maharashtra and championing the cause of personal liberty and press freedom with limited reference to Arnab, who openly voices for their political causes.
a) Mumbai Police filed FIR against senior editors and newsroom staff of Republic TV for airing news about a "revolt" within the force against its commissioner Param Bir Singh under sections of the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, and claims the editors and staff "attempted to incite disaffection" among members of the police.
b) Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh told media on 8 October a "racket" of private channels allegedly manipulating their Television Rating Points (TRPs) to get more revenue was discovered against the owners of Republic TV, Fakt Marathi and Box Cinema.
c) Many filed FIRs against Republic TV's coverage of the Palghar mob lynching incident on 16 April, wherein three Mumbai residents — two Hindu sadhus and their driver — who were on their way to Silvassa in the union territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli, were lynched residents in Gadchinchale on the suspicion that they were thieves.
The Mumbai Police sent a show cause notice Arnab Goswami, saying his comments could create communal disharmony and hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and asking why a bond of good behaviour should not be taken from him.
d) There are 15 FIRs filed mostly by Maharashtra Congress workers against Arnab's allegation against Sonia Gandhi that she is getting Sadhus killed and reporting to Italy. Then activist Nilesh Navlakhs invoked sections of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, against Goswami for alleged stirring up communal hatred and divide on his news channel.
e) In another show Goswami questioned gathering of a crowd of migrant workers on 14 April outside Mumbai's Bandra Railway Station demanding transportation to return their homes during Covid19, breaking norms of physical distancing etc. Police booked FIR against Goswami for trying to spread hatred against the Muslim community and booked him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Jailed for criticising
None bothered about those innocent, not very popular common journalists and protestors who were arrested for talking against establishment or protesting CAA. In recent times several journalists have been charged under sedition, Official Secrets Act, incitement to riots and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Left wing thinkers, poets and academicians are arrested without any convincing evidence or charge, who are denied bail by the courts. Supreme Court does not have time for them. Right wing politicians do not condemn such arrests and others hesitate to condemn arrest of Arnab. It is difficult to say it is an assault on freedom of press, though even a biased journalist had the right of speech.
Why Sudha Bharadwaj, a professor, should be denied bail? Why Varavara Rao, a teacher and poet should suffer incarceration without much to suspect him? Why there is no condemnation of the repeated arrest and harassment of a good doctor named Kafeel Khan? Why is it ok for Umar Khalid to rot in jail? A journalist in Yogi Adityanath's UP was booked and accused of criminal conspiracy for exposing how a government school was serving roti and salt for mid-day meals. A journalist in Tamil Nadu was arrested for his Covid-19 coverage.
The newspapers are shut down in Kashmir, or Internet was shut down for months, leaders are kept in house arrest, habeas corpus writ petitions are pending unanswered or not scheduled. Arnab was arrested not for his journalistic TV shows but for non-payment that led two to commit suicide. A journalist in Gujarat was arrested and charged with sedition merely for a speculative story that the state may get a new chief minister.
The Union Home Ministry is opposing dropping of sedition charges against journalist Vinod Dua for critically analysing Modi Government. Parashar Biswas, a journalist in Tripura who was beaten up after criticising Chief Minister Biplab Deb's threat to the media on his handling of Covid-19 pandemic. Some journalists in Kashmir were detained and assaulted by police during the Covid lockdown.
Do they have freedom of speech and expression? The Rule of Law is suffering between political and communal polarisation. The personal liberty perhaps depends on affordability to reach apex court and hire advocates who have greater rapport with establishment and judges.
(The writer is Dean, School of Law, Bennett University, and former Central Information Commissioner)