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The Supreme Court today refused to transfer the investigation into the FIRs filed against journalist Arnab Goswami to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The Court has also refused to quash the FIR filed against Goswami in connection with statements he recently made during news broadcasts.
The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah further confirmed the Court's earlier interim order transferring the investigation into the FIRs from Nagpur to Mumbai. The Court said,
"The interim order of this Court dated 24 April 2020 by which FIR 238 of 2020 dated 22 April 2020 was transferred from the Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City to NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai is confirmed."
The protection against coercive steps earlier granted by the Court has been extended for three weeks, during which time Goswami may pursue appropriate remedies. The Mumbai Police Commissioner has been directed to ensure protection to Goswami during this time.
The Bench also made it clear that subsequent FIRs and complaints lodged against the journalist are quashed, and that no other FIR or complaint shall be entertained or pursued on the basis of Goswami's April 21 news broadcast on the Palghar lynching incident.
While pronouncing its verdict, the Court observed that while journalists have the fundamental right to speak truth to power, this right was not absolute.
The news anchor had moved the Court seeking quashing of the FIRs registered against him. He also prayed that the investigation being carried out against him by the Maharashtra Police be transferred to an independent agency.
The Republic TV founder had moved the Supreme Court on two occasions, seeking to quash the FIRs registered against him in relation to his debate programs on the Republic TV and the Republic Bharat news channels.
One of the programs pertained to the Palghar lynching, after which Goswami was accused of making defamatory remarks against Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and making statements promoting enmity between groups.
The other program pertained to the debate program on the Bandra migrant crisis that took place on April 14, during which Goswami allegedly made statements that communalised the incident.
After a large number of FIRs were filed against him over the Palghar lynching broadcast, Goswami moved the Apex Court seeking that the FIRs be quashed, claiming that they were politically motivated.
The Supreme Court passed an interim order staying action on all FIRs except the one filed in Maharashtra. The Maharashtra FIR stood transferred from Nagpur to Mumbai. Goswami was granted interim relief from arrest for a period of three weeks, after which he could seek appropriate legal remedy.
Subsequently, Goswami was interrogated by the Maharashtra Police for over 12 hours in connection with the case. In an unusual move, the police also moved the Supreme Court claiming threats and pressure from Goswami thereafter.
In a subsequent petition filed by Goswami, he sought to quash an FIR registered in Mumbai against him over his broadcast on the Bandra incident. Goswami claimed that the police was acting with "malafide and with ill-will".
A grievance was raised by Goswami before the Supreme Court on May 11 that the police force against which he had raised serious allegations, was now questioning him. Therefore, it was urged that the investigation in the matter be transferred to an independent agency such as the CBI.
Solicitor General for India Tushar Mehta had also urged for a transfer of the probe. He said that in light of the unusual circumstances where both the accused and the investigating agency are accusing each other, the best solution would be to transfer the probe to another independent agency.
The State of Maharashtra had, however, opposed this request and maintained that the news anchor had prima facie violated the restrictions on Article 19 of the Constitution.
During the hearing, the Supreme Court had observed that the High Court would be the appropriate forum to decide the issue of the quashing of the single FIR against Goswami.
After hearing submissions in the matter, the Bench reserved its orders, while also extending the interim protection granted to Goswami until the pronouncement of the order.