MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: A week after he was sent to jail, high-profile TV journalist Arnab Goswami, an accused in a 2018 abetment to suicide case, was released on Wednesday night, hours after the Supreme Court granted interim bail observing it will be a "travesty of justice" if personal liberty is curtailed.
The court also said that if the Constitutional Courts do not interfere in this case today then "we are travelling the path of destruction undeniably."
Goswami, the 47-year-old Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV who was lodged in Taloja jail in Alibaug in Raigad district adjoining Mumbai along with two others after they were sent to 14-day judicial custody on November 4 by a sessions court, got the relief from a vacation bench of the top court after a day-long hearing marked by some gripping exchanges.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee expressed concern over state governments targeting some individuals on the basis of ideology and difference of opinion, adding if they target individuals, people must realise there is the apex court to protect the liberty of citizens.
It was also Justice Chandrachud's 61st birthday today. The apex court also ticked off the Bombay High Court, saying it "was in error" in rejecting the pleas filed by the three accused seeking interim bail in the case.
Goswami came out of the jail around 8.30 pm and waved to people assembled outside from the vehicle carrying him. He said he was thankful to the Supreme Court for granting him bail. He flashed the victory sign and said, "this is the victory of the people of India.
"As Goswami walked out after completing some procedural formalities, a group of his supporters waiting outside with placards like 'Welcome Arnab' greeted him with cheers. Words like 'Satyamev Jayate' and 'Happy Diwali' were also written on the road in front of the jail.
People were also heard shouting slogans like 'Bharat Mata ki jai, Vande Mataram and Arnab Goswami zindabad'.
The top court granted interim bail to two others in the case -- Neetish Sarda and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh -- all on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each and directed they shall not tamper with the evidence and shall cooperate in the probe.
"We are of the considered view that the high court was in error in rejecting the applications for the grant of interim bail. We accordingly order and direct that Arnab Manoranjan Goswami, Feroz Mohammad Shaikh and Neetish Sarda shall be released on interim bail, subject to each of them executing a personal bond in the amount of Rs 50,000 to be executed before the Jail Superintendent," the bench said in its order.
"They are, however, directed to cooperate in the investigation and shall not make any attempt to interfere with the ongoing investigation or with the witnesses. The concerned jail authorities and the Superintendent of Police, Raigad are directed to ensure that this order is complied with forthwith."
The apex court was hearing the appeals against the high court's November 9 order rejecting the pleas, including that of Goswami, for grant of interim bail.
The three accused were arrested by Alibaug police 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.
Goswami was arrested from his Lower Parel residence in Mumbai and taken to Alibaug.
The top court expressed anguish over denial of relief by various high courts in matters related to personal liberty in similar cases and said that a high court, being a constitutional court, must not fall short of exercising "their constitutional duties".
"We are seeing case after case where high courts are not granting bail and failing to protect personal liberty of people. We must send a message across to the high court today that please, exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty." The bench also asked Maharashtra government whether there was any need for custodial interrogation of Goswami, and said the issue pertains to personal liberty.
It observed that Indian democracy is "extraordinarily resilient" and the Maharashtra government must ignore all this (Arnab's taunt on TV).
"Whatever be his ideology. Least, I don't even watch his channel. But, if in this case Constitutional Courts do not interfere today, we are travelling the path of destruction undeniably," Justice Chandrachud said, adding, "the point is can you deny personal liberty of a person on these allegations".
"If the government targets individuals on this basis. You may not like television channels but this should not happen," the apex court said.
"Is not paying up money abetment to suicide? It will be a travesty of justice if bail is not granted while FIR is pending," the bench told senior advocate Kapil Sibal who was appearing for the state of Maharashtra.
"'A' does not pay money to 'B', and is this the case of abetment of suicide? If the high court don't act in matters like this, there will be complete destruction of personal liberty. We are deeply concerned for this. If we don't act in matters like this then it will be very disturbing," the court said.
Justice Chandrachud observed that courts are being attacked for judgements delivered by them and, "I often ask my law clerk and they say that Sir, please don't look at tweets".
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, referred to various cases lodged against him and the channel and alleged that Maharashtra government is targeting him.
"This is not an ordinary case and the Bombay High Court being a constitutional court should have taken note of the incidents. Is this a case where Arnab Goswami is put in Taloja jail with hardened criminals," Salve said.
"I would urge the case to be transferred to the CBI and punish him if he is guilty. What will happen if a person is granted ad-interim bail," he said.
Sibal referred to the facts of the case and said that details of investigation conducted in the matter are not before the apex court and if it intervenes at this stage, it would set a dangerous precedent.
Senior lawyer Amit Desai, also appearing for the state, said this is not a case where the court should exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction to grant bail at interim stage.