The Supreme Court today issued a notice of contempt to the secretary of the Maharashtra assembly for writing a letter to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami on 13 October for breaching the confidentiality of the proceedings of the house by approaching the top court against the breach of privilege notice.
While Goswami is facing a legal challenge in an entirely different matter — one of alleged abetment to suicide by way of alleged non-payment of dues to a victim — the mainstream media, known for its anti-establishment stance during the Narendra Modi era, is viewing this notice as though the highest court of the country has taken a side in the ‘Maharashtra government versus Arnab Goswami’ tussle.
The Supreme Court asked the secretary to remain present during the hearing on this letter to take place after 14 days. Until then, the court ordered no arrest of Goswami in the privilege matter.
The Chief Justice of India SA Bobde-headed bench — also comprising justice AS Bopanna and justice V Ramasubramanian — appointed Arvind Datar, a senior advocate, as amicus curiae to assist in the matter.
The Supreme Court noted that the letter seriously interfered with the administration of justice as it intimidated Goswami for approaching the court. The bench termed the letter by the assembly secretary as “unprecedented” and “shocking”.
“The clear intention of the author of the letter seems to be to intimidate the petitioner because he approached the Court and to threaten him with a penalty for doing so,” the Supreme Court said. “The assembly should be well advised to understand that the right to approach this Court under Article 32 of Constitution is itself a fundamental right,” the court added.
The Supreme Court has issued a notice to Attorney General KK Venugopal to assist in this matter. The letter of 13 October was produced before the court by Goswami’s lawyer Harish Salve who submitted an application with an affidavit by 47-year-old journalist’s wife as he is in jail.
Before Supreme Court, Alibaug magistrate admonished Maharashtra government
Mumbai Police assaulted and arrested Goswami on Wednesday from his house in Mumbai. He was then taken to Alibaug in connection with a 2018 case of abetment to suicide.
The Alibaug court has found the arrest wrong. In the morning of 4 November, Chief Judicial Magistrate of the Alibaug court Sunaina Pingle termed the arrest of Goswami and two others as “prima facie illegal” and did not grant Raigad police custody, and instead sent them to judicial custody for two weeks.
Designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik died of suicide and named Goswami as the owner of the firm that did not pay dues amounting to Rs 5.4 crore.
There are, however, glaring inconsistencies in the alleged suicide note like steady handwriting of a mentally unstable person who was supposedly in a state of mind to end his own life and his accusing three people with their names preceded by the honorific “Mr”.
The fact that a depressed man would commit suicide along with his mother makes it a curious case too.
The detailed order in Marathi of Chief Judicial Magistrate Sunaina Pingle which was made available to lawyers on Thursday said after perusal of the case diary and other relevant documents the prosecution failed to prima facie establish a link between the deceased and the accused persons.
Persecution of Arnab Goswami
The Maharashtra home department led by NCP’s Anil Deshmukh had drafted a high-level 40-member team led by Kokan range inspector general Sanjay Mohite to arrest Arnab Goswami in the 2018 suicide abetment case.
The preparations for “Operation Arnab” had begun a few days after Raigad police secured permission to reopen the probe into the alleged suicides of architect Anway Naik and his mother Kumud in 2018. In all, 40 personnel were drawn from Mumbai and Raigad police.
Mohite drafted the plan to arrest Arnab while the responsibility to execute it was entrusted to high-profile encounter specialist Sachin Vaze. “For the team led by Mohite, it was a challenging task in view of the powerful Arnab. We acted very carefully, every member of the team observed restraint despite provocation,’’ a senior cabinet member said.
“Our people made several rounds of the building where Arnab was residing. It was a secret operation. We were fearing that if the information is leaked, Arnab may flee the city to avoid arrest,’’ he said.
Arnab was arrested in the early hours on Wednesday. Police personnel chose the morning hours to ensure he was at home. “It was a planned operation, even small issues were taken care of. It was decided who will knock at the door, who will talk to Arnab and his family members and what the course of action would be if he resists. Arnab did resist. However, after Vaze explained to him the legal position if he failed to join the investigation, it was a smooth affair,’’ he said.