The Bombay High Court today granted interim relief to anchor and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV Arnab Goswami, staying the two FIRs Mumbai Police had filed against him over alleged communalisation of the incidents of Palghar lynching and the gathering of migrant workers at Bandra railway station.
A division bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice Riyaz Chagla observed “prima facie no case was made out against him”. It ordered that the authority cannot take any coercive action against him.
The bench had reserved orders on the petitions on 12 June.
Arnab Goswami had been booked under Sections 153, 153 A, 153 B, 295 A, 298, 500, 504, 505(2), 506, 120 B and 117 of the Indian Penal Code.
Appearing for Goswami, Senior Advocates Harish Salve and Milind Sathe had submitted that the FIRs were politically motivated with an attempt to muzzle critical voices against the Maharashtra government.
Stating that the Maharashtra police had mala fides against Goswami, Salve argued,
“At a time when the country is in lockdown, calling Arnab for investigation should be looked into. A party in power is calling a journalist for investigation because he made an adversarial statement against the leader of a political party. What was he asked? ‘What is the structure of your company? Who owns Republic TV & R Bharat? What is your wife’s role?’ What is the relevance of these questions?”
Salve submitted further that a journalist had the right to report communal incidents.
Salve reiterated that Srivatsa YB and Gaurav Pandhi of the Indian National Congress (INC) were tweeting details about Arnab’s interrogation from outside while he was still inside NM Joshi Marg police station.
“We have made serious allegations. However strong his comments may have been against the INC President, but to cross a line and invoke 153A is malicious. When you’re reporting on communal incidents and making a personal allegation of someone being communal, it comes within the Right to Freedom of Expression,” Salve contended.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state of Maharashtra, submitted that press freedom under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India did not include the right to indulge in communal propaganda. “A journalist has a right to Freedom of Expression and a right to private investigation of an incident. But a journalist does not have a right to declare that a person got killed only because he was a Hindu. What if it turns out to be false after an investigation? We need to investigate the motive. Why did Arnab assume that the man was killed because he was a Hindu. What is this if not putting one community against the other?” Sibal had argued.
On the second FIR relating to gathering of large crowd of migrants at Bandra station, Sibal had argued, “Arnab asked, ‘Who caused the congregation of a crowd near a Masjid?’ Why didn’t he ask, ‘Who caused the congregation of a crowd near Bandra station?’ If Masjid was used just as a statement of fact, why did he twist the question? So he’s not using Masjid as a matter of fact. A journalist has no right to consider his investigation to be gospel and air it to create disturbance. All this will be investigated. It will be investigated as to why was he doing a series of such shows? What was his intention?”
Earlier, the Supreme Court had declined Goswami’s prayer to transfer the investigation from Maharashtra Police to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The top court also turned down his prayer to quash the FIR, saying that powers under Article 32 of the constitution could not be exercised for such purposes. However, the apex court quashed the multiple FIRs filed in various states over the reports, and confined the investigation only to the FIR lodged in Mumbai.
The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah granted him interim protection from arrest, and gave liberty to him to move the Bombay High Court with respect to quashing of FIR.
On 10 June, Goswami had to appear before Mumbai Police for interrogation for the second time, after the Bombay High Court declined to grant him exemption from such appearance.