The Supreme Court, on May 19, 2020, declined to transfer the investigation into the First Information Reports (FIRs); filed against journalist Arnab Goswami to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Complaints Against Arnab Goswami
Goswami approached the Court for quashing of FIRS’s against him. He also asked for the transfer of investigation carried out against him; from the Maharashtra Police to an independent agency.
The Republic TV founder and news anchor had moved the Supreme Court on two occasions; seeking to quash the FIRs against him relating to his debate programs on the Republic TV and the Republic Bharat news channels. One of the programs related to the Palghar lynching, in which Goswami made defamatory remarks against Congress President Sonia Gandhi; the other program was a debate program on the Bandra migrants’ incident on April 14, during which he allegedly made statements that communalised the incident.
After many FIRs filed against him, he approached the Supreme Court, asking for quashing of the FIRs. He claimed that there were political motivations relating to them. The Supreme Court passed an interim order staying action on all FIRs except one filed in Maharashtra. That FIR was transferred from Nagpur to Mumbai. Arnab Goswami was granted interim relief from arrest for a period of three weeks, after which he could seek appropriate legal remedy.
Then, the Maharashtra police interrogated him for more than 12 hours in regarding the case. Then, surprisingly the police also moved the Apex Court claiming threats and pressure from Goswami. After that, in a subsequent petition, Goswami sought quashing of the FIR registered in Mumbai. He claimed that the police was acting with “malafide intention and with ill-will”.
Thereafter, Goswami questioned why the police force against which he had raised serious allegations, were now questioning him. Thus, he urged the Supreme Court, on May 11, to transfer the matter to any other agency such as the CBI.
Arguments Before The Court
Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta urged for a transfer of the probe. As in the unusual situation where both the accused and the investigating agency are accusing each other; the best solution would be to transfer the probe to another independent agency, he said.
However, the State of Maharashtra opposed this request and asserted that prima facie; the news anchor violated the restrictions on Article 19 of the Constitution.
The Decision Of The Court
The Court declined to quash the FIR filed against Goswami regarding the statements he recently made during news broadcasts. The Division Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah further confirmed the Court’s earlier interim order; transferring the investigation into the FIRs from Nagpur to Mumbai. The protection the Apex Court granted against strong steps stands extended for three weeks. In this time, Goswami can pursue appropriate remedies. The Court directed the Mumbai Police Commissioner to ensure protection to Goswami during this time.
“India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power; without the chill 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)”- the Supreme Court clarified. Although a free citizenry and free press cannot survive without each another, the Court emphasized that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India is not higher than the right of a citizen to speak or express.
“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 Apex Court held.
The Supreme Court observed that the High Court is the appropriate forum; to decide the issue of the quashing of the single FIR against Goswami. After hearing the matter, the Bench reserved its orders, while also extending the interim protection granted to Goswami until the pronouncement of the order.