SC extends Arnab’s interim bail

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NEW DELHI, Nov 27 (PTI): Supreme Court on Friday extended the interim bail of TV anchor Arnab Goswami and two others till four weeks after the Bombay High Court decides their pleas for quashing of an FIR in the 2018 abetment to suicide case, stating that the judiciary should ensure criminal law does not become a weapon for selective harassment.

“The writ of liberty runs through the fabric of the Constitution,” the apex court said in an extensive judgement in the case, dealing with various aspects such as power of high courts to grant bail under writ jurisdiction, quashing of an FIR and role of courts in upholding human liberty.

“It is the duty of courts across the spectrum – the district judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court – to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens,” the apex court said while extending the interim bail.

Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV, Neetish Sarda and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh were arrested by Alibaug police in Maharashtra’s Raigad district on November 4 in connection with the suicide of architect-interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother in 2018 over alleged non-payment of dues by companies of the accused.

“The interim protection which has been granted to the…accused by the order dated November 11, shall continue to remain in operation pending the disposal of the proceedings before the High Court and thereafter for a period of four weeks from the date of the judgment of the High Court, should it become necessary for all or any of them to take further recourse to their remedies in accordance with law,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said in the judgement.

“The need to ensure the fair investigation of crime is undoubtedly important in itself, because it protects at one level the rights of the victim and, at a more fundamental level, the societal interest in ensuring that crime is investigated and dealt with in accordance with law. On the other hand, the misuse of the criminal law is a matter of which the High Court and the lower Courts in this country must be alive,” the judgement said.

Justice Chandrachud, writing the 55-page verdict for the bench, referred to various judgements to highlight the importance of personal liberty and the principle that “bail is rule and the jail is exception”.

It said the “High Court should not foreclose itself from the exercise of the power when a citizen has been arbitrarily deprived of their personal liberty in an excess of state power”.

The top court was critical of the Bombay High Court for not even prima facie evaluating the FIR against Goswami and said that the issue whether accused has established a case for quashing the FIR could have been looked into later, but the issue of bail should have been dealt with in the light of the complaint.

“We are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty. Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it,” it said.

The top court said the FIR does not disclose the accused’s commission of suicide as under section 306, “they must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing certain act to facilitate the commission of suicide.”

“In this batch of cases, a prima facie evaluation of the FIR does not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC.

“The appellants are residents of India and do not pose a flight risk during the investigation or the trial. There is no apprehension of tampering of evidence or witnesses. Taking these factors into consideration, the order dated 11 November 2020 envisaged the release of the appellants on bail,” it said.

It said that the High Court “failed to apply its mind to a fundamental issue” which needed to be considered while dealing with a petition for quashing of an FIR.

“If the High Court were to carry out a prima facie evaluation, it would have been impossible for it not to notice the disconnect between the FIR and the provisions of Section 306 of the IPC.

“The failure of the High Court to do so has led it to adopting a position where it left the appellant to pursue his remedies for regular bail under Section 439 (of CrPC). The High Court was clearly in error in failing to perform a duty which is entrusted to it while evaluating a petition under Section 482 (CrPC) albeit at the interim stage,” it said.

It summarized important factors to be taken note of by the high courts in dealing with bail pleas and said “the nature of alleged offence, the nature of the accusation and the severity of the punishment in the case of a conviction” is one of them.

On the likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice, it said, “the antecedents of and circumstances which are peculiar to the accused” should also be considered.

“It is our earnest hope that our courts will exhibit acute awareness to the need to expand the footprint of liberty and use our approach as a decision-making yardstick for future cases involving the grant of bail,” the verdict said.

The FIR alleged that Goswami’s ARG Outlier Media Asianet News had not paid Rs 83 lakh for the Bombay Dyeing Studio project and in addition, there was Rs 4 crore outstanding from Feroz Shaikh and Rs 55 lacs from Sarda.

 

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