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The Supreme Court today reserved its order in the plea filed by Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami seeking quashing of FIRs filed against him for allegedly disturbing communal harmony.
The Court has said that the interim protection granted to Goswami on April 24 will continue until the pronouncement of its order.
In the first petition filed by Goswami, the Court had earlier stayed action on all the FIRs against the anchor, except one filed in Nagpur. This FIR stood transferred to Mumbai and in relation to the same, Goswami was given three weeks' relief against coercive action.
This protection will continue to be in operation till the pronouncement of the Court's order, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said today.
The Court has indicated that the order would be pronounced later this week. It will also consider the prayer made for transferring the investigation against Goswami to an independent agency. It is understood that the claims made by the police of Goswami having resorted to pressure and threats would also be taken into account by the Court.
The first petition filed by Goswami was in relation to the multiple FIRs registered against him in various states after his debate program on the Palghar Mob lynching incident. Goswami made statements during this show that were allegedly defamatory against Congress President Sonia Gandhi. He is also said to have made statements that suggested that the Congress party was responsible for disturbing communal harmony.
On April 24, the Court had given three weeks' interim protection to Goswami while staying all but one FIR against him.
Goswami was investigated by the Mumbai Police for over 12 hours in relation to this FIR.
During the course of the arguments, Senior Counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, told the Court that the various FIRs filed against his client were identical and were all filed by members of the same political party. Referring to the Congress party, Salve said:
Salve argued that the 12-hour long interrogation that Goswami was subjected to was nothing short of "arm twisting tactic". Alleging mala-fide in Police's action, Salve argued that the probe against Goswami must be transferred to a central and independent agency such as the CBI given that the same Police against whom Goswami made serious allegations is now investigating him.
Goswami has raised questions regarding the role of the Police in the Palghar mob lynching in his program and the investigation into the same program is being conducted by the Maharashtra Police, Salve elaborated.
The freedom of the press under Article 19(1)(a) was another argument advanced by Salve who said that the action of the Police will "have a chilling effect on the Freedom of the Press."
Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, representing the State of Maharashtra, opposed the transfer of the probe to the CBI saying that the investigation would lean in Goswami's favour should the same happen. This submission was taken objection to by the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
The exchange between Sibal and Mehta was highlighted by Salve to further press for the transfer of probe on the grounds that Goswami was merely caught in a crossfire on a political issue between the Centre and the State.
Batting for the transfer of the case, SG Mehta said that the case brings forth certain peculiar aspects such as an Investigating agency approaching the Court seeking insulation from threat and pressure from the accused.
The accused, on the other hand, is claiming harassment by the Police. To solve an issue of this nature, the probe must stand transferred to an independent agency, Mehta reasoned before the Court.
The 12 hour long questioning of Goswami by the Mumbai Police also did not sit well with Mehta who found the same "disturbing", keeping in mind the nature of the case made against him.
Sibal however rejected the argument of harassment by the Police and submitted that a consolidated and systematic line of questioning was put forth before Goswami and the same cannot be termed as harassment.
Sibal highlighted the nature of statements made by Goswami on his programs where he has suggested that the Congress party has a role to play in disturbing communal harmony. This, Sibal argued, was a clear violation of the Article 19(1)(a) considering that Goswami was "stigmatizing a people through sensationalism."
Senior Advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi and KV Vishwanathan also made their submissions.
In a second FIR, Goswami has been accused of communalising the Bandra migrant incident of April 14 where a large gathering of people had assembled in Mumbai's Bandra in what appeared to be gathering of migrants hopeful of returning home amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.
In his debate show on Republic Bharat, Goswami had called the Bandra incident a "conspiracy" and labelled the migrants as "actors" who were planted by people with "vested interests". This led to the filing of an FIR against him for allegedly communalising the incident and promoting enmity.
Goswami had approached the Court seeking quashing of this FIR also and for directions for the Mumbai Police to not take cognizance of the FIR.
As regards the prayer for quashing of this FIR, the Court observed that the Bombay High Court may be moved. It was pointed out that the Court's intervention earlier was so made given that multiple FIRs were filed against Goswami in various States. But for quashing on one FIR in Mumbai, the Bombay High Court may be moved, it was observed.
However, after hearing the detailed arguments on the aspect of transferring the probe against Goswami, the Court went on to reserve its order while holding that the interim protection to Goswami would continue till pronouncement of the order.