Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India and others

Citation – Writ Petition (Crl) No. 130 of 2020

Bench – D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah

Date – May 19, 2020

Facts of the Case

The petition was brought by Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, an English television news channel. He also serves as the Managing Director of ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited, which owns and manages R Bharat, a Hindi television news channel, and anchors new programming on both networks. Multiple FIRs and criminal charges were filed against Mr. Goswami in the states of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand, and the UT of Jammu & Kashmir following two programmes on Republic TV on April 16th and 21st, 2020.

Both broadcasts were about an incident that occurred on April 16, 2020, in Gadchinchle village, Palghar district, Maharashtra, in which three people, including two sadhus, were brutally murdered by a mob in the presence of police and forest guard officials. He alleged that Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Indian National Congress, engineered the Palghar massacre in Maharashtra, in which three of them were lynched by locals on suspicion of being thieves while on their way to Silvassa. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence in the aftermath of the incident, asking if she would have remained silent if Muslim or Christian religious leaders had been lynched instead of Hindus.

Concerning the incident’s delayed investigation, the petitioner cited a number of objections. Following that, the petitioner claims, a well-coordinated, vengeful, and nasty campaign was undertaken. Several members of the Indian National Congress (INC) submitted charges for offences allegedly committed under Sections 153, 153A, 153B, 295A, 298, 500, 504, 506, and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and a social media campaign was purportedly launched using the hashtag #ArrestAntiIndiaArnab.

The petitioner claimed that all of the complaints and FIRs were filed by accident in states where the governments owed allegiance to the INC, and that the motion was brought with an ulterior motive. He also referred to an incident on April 23, 2020, between 12:30 and 1:00 a.m., when he was returning home by car with his wife and was confronted by two individuals on a motorcycle and assaulted. Both of them are said to have revealed their INC membership. The petitioner thus denied the propagation of any views of communal nature and asserting his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution moved the court under Article 32 for the protection of those rights.

Issues

  1. Whether Arnab Goswami, who stands accused, can get the case investigated by an authority of his choice?
  2. Whether the Courts can consolidate the various similar FIRs under Article 32?
  3. Whether the statements made by Arnab Goswami on live TV fall under the protective ambit of Article 19 (1) (a) or can be restricted as per the provisions under Article 19 (2)?

Laws

1. Constitution of India – Articles 14, 19,21, 32 and 226

2. Indian penal Code, 1961 – Sections 34, 153, 153A, 153B, 500, 504, 505, 506, 188, 290, 499

3. Code of Criminal procedure, 1973 – Sections 41 (a), 91, 160, 482, 199, 173 (2), 154, 162

Contentions made by the Petitioners

According to the petition filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, he debated on live television only to question the inadequate investigation of the Palghar event, as well as the contradicting stories of the authorities and the State government’s silence. The fact that the horrible incident took place in front of police officials sparked a number of concerns regarding the coalition government’s authority in Maharashtra. The petitioner refuted the claim that he was spreading communal ideas. Under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution, he requested the court to declare his unambiguous freedom of expression. The principal reliefs sought were the dismissal of all complaints and FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami in various states, as well as a request from the Union Government for safety for his family.

The petitioner claimed that the inquiry into his case was biased and unjust. According to him, the inquiry approach invites anyone to believe that the authorities operated in ill faith against the petitioner. Mr. Goswami went on to say that the probe is politically motivated and that it was launched solely to harass the petitioner. Using this as a foundation, he said that the news station was challenging the Maharashtra police’s delay in the Palghar event, and that this institution is controlled by the state government, resulting in a blatant conflict of interest.

Contentions made by the Repondents

The petitioner’s actions, according to the Mumbai police, were hindering the inquiry. It stemmed from the fact that Mr. Goswami was accompanied by a swarm of media when he went to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station. Some remarks were delivered here and broadcast live on television. After four hours of questioning, Republic Bharat’s twitter account released a message saying, “Truth shall triumph.” Further messages were sent on Republic Bharat’s Twitter account, giving the appearance that the Mumbai police are biased. The accusation was that the investigating agency was being subjected to constant pressure, which was causing the probe to come to a standstill.

Judgement

The division bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah handed down the decision. Except for the one filed in Nagpur, which has now been relocated to Mumbai, the court invalidated all other identical FIRs filed against Arnab Goswami in different states.

Arnab’s request for the inquiry to be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation was denied by the court. It did, however, give him the freedom to pursue any legal remedies available under the CrPC before the competent venue.

The court cited the decision in Romila Thapar v. Union of India ((2018) 10 SCC 753), which stated that “accused does not have a say in the question of appointment of investigative agency,” and thus Arnab Goswami’s request to transfer the application was denied. It can be deduced that Arnab Goswami has no say in the designation of the investigating agency and has no influence in how the inquiry should be conducted; the investigating agency is free to determine the form of the questions and the time of questioning in this case.

The court also cited the case of TT Antony v. the State of Kerala ((2001) 6 SCC 181), in which the court stated that subjecting an individual to many proceedings for the same offence is contrary to the state’s goal of criminal prosecution.

When a counter-case is brought, the Court decided that conducting a new investigation based on a related cognizable offence would be an “abuse of the statutory power of investigation” and could be a suitable cause for exercising power under Section 482 of the CrPC or Articles 226/227 of the Constitution.

The court declined to dismiss the FIR filed against Goswami for allegedly injuring religious sentiments by making insulting statements about a religious community on his channel Republic TV during a show on migrants congregated in Bandra.

The court also dismissed Maharashtra police’s interim appeal, which sought a directive to ‘protect’ the investigative agency from any ‘pressure, intimidation, or coercion’ from Arnab Goswami. It left the door open for the police to present their case to the Competent court.

The court asked Commissioner of Police, Mumbai to provide police protection to Arnab Goswami, if it is considered appropriate, for the period during which the threat perception is there.

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