Personal liberty
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This article is written by Amrit Kaur, a student of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Rai, Sonepat. The article talks about the importance of personal liberty vis-a-vis the Arnab Goswami case.

Background

Arnab Goswami is the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, an English news channel. He also serves as the Managing Director of ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited, which owns and runs R Bharat, a Hindi television news channel. On both channels, Arnab hosts a number of programs. However, Arnab was arrested on November 4, 2020, in Alibaug Police Station in connection with FIR 59 of 2018, which was filed under Sections 306 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).

The whole matter started in December 2016, when ARG Outlier Media Private Limited (ARG) signed a contract for civil and interior work with another company called Concorde Design Private Limited (CDPL), which was primarily owned by Anvay Naik (the deceased).

The FIR was filed on 5 May 2018 when the informant, Akshyata Anvay Naik, the wife of the deceased (who committed the suicide) filed a complaint. According to the FIR:

  • Arnab Goswami (who owns the firm ARG) had not paid the Bombay Dyeing Studio project a sum of Rs. 83 lakhs.
  • The informant’s husband had not been paid for the services he had done, putting him under immense mental stress and he thus committed suicide by hanging on May 5, 2018. 
  • There was a suicide note which mentioned Arnab and the other two persons (the FIR was registered against Arnab and the other two individuals who also owed some amount to the deceased).
  • On 5 May 2018, when she and her daughter were in their Mumbai home, the informant learned that her mother-in-law, Kumud Naik, had died at their Alibaug home. Soon, she learned that her spouse had committed suicide when she was on her way to Alibaug. When she arrived at her home in Alibaug, she found her mother-in-law’s dead body on a bed and that her husband had committed suicide by hanging himself.

On June 15, 2019, the informant sent a communication to ARG, stating that an amount of Rs. 5.75 crores had been received from ARG out of a total billed amount of Rs. 6.45 crores, and that after adjusting an amount of Rs. 70.39 lakhs for deductions made from the bill, an amount of Rs. 88.02 lakhs was due and payable. However, on November 6, 2019, ARG sent another letter to the informant, stating the closure of the police investigation and reaffirming its willingness to pay Rs.39.01 lakhs subject to proper authorization.

On May 26, 2020, however, the State of Maharashtra’s Home Department sent a correspondence to the Deputy Inspector General of Police stating that the FIR registered as Crime No. 59 of 2018, at Alibaug Police Station, under Sections 306/34 of the IPC, was being transferred to the crime investigation department for reinvestigation.

Arnab Goswami was then apprehended at 7:45 a.m. on November 4, 2020, in connection with FIR 59 of 2018, dated May 5, 2018. Soon, he (the appellant) filed a writ petition before the Bombay High Court, invoking Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution and Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC).

Following the appellant’s incarceration, a remand application was filed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Raigad. The Chief Judicial Magistrate refused to award police custody in an order dated November 4, 2020. While denying the plea for police custody, the Chief Judicial Magistrate remanded the appellant in judicial custody until November 18, 2020. In a revision before the Additional Sessions Judge, Raigad, the State contested the CJM’s judgment denying police custody.

Arnab Manoranjan Goswami v. the State of Maharashtra & Ors. (2020)

The appellant i.e. Arnab Goswami thus filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court. Invoking the  jurisdiction of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay’s under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution and Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the appellant sought three substantive reliefs from the Bombay High Court:

  1. A habeas corpus writ, alleging that he was illegally apprehended and wrongfully detained by the Station House Officer (SHO) at Alibaug Police Station in the district of Raigad in Maharashtra in relation to a First Information Report (FIR) registered on 5 May 2018 in relation to Sections 306 and 34 of the IPC, in spite of an earlier termination report accepted by the Magistrate.
  2. The dissolution of the aforementioned FIR; and
  3. The arrest memo, on the basis on which the appellant was arrested, to be quashed.

The Bombay High Court decision

By the ruling dated 9 November 2020, a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court noted that the plea that sought a writ of habeas corpus was not pressed. Further, the High Court scheduled the hearing on the plea to consider the motion for quashing the FIR on 10th December 2020. It refused to grant bail, citing a judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of The State of Telangana v. Habib Abdullah Jeelani (Habib Jeelani) (2017). The High Court held that the petition for interim relief was based on the premise that the appellant had been unlawfully detained and that because he was in judicial custody, it would not entertain the request for bail or a stay of the investigation in the exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction. The High Court ruled that because the appellant was in judicial custody, he may exercise his right to bail under Section 439 of the CrPC. The High Court rejected the appellant’s preliminary contention that the accusations in the FIR, as written, do not disclose the commission of a crime under Section 306 of the IPC. The High Court also stated that the power to quash should be used sparingly and only in rare and suitable situations. It could be used in severe circumstances also, to prevent misuse of the legal process. The High Court thus denied the appellant’s interim bail.

After all this at the Bombay High Court, the matter arrived at the Supreme Court as the appellant was dissatisfied with the denial of his interim bail request by the High Court. 

The decision of the Supreme Court

According to the Supreme Court, in this case, the High Court neglected to examine a key issue that should have been considered while dealing with quashing a petition under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution or Section 482 of the CrPC. The High Court, in its ruling dated 9 November 2020, permitted the petition for quashing to be continued for hearing a month later. It, therefore, denied the appellant’s request for interim bail and consigned him to the remedies under Section 439 of the CrPC. In the meanwhile, the personal liberty of the appellant had been sacrificed. Since the High Court failed to determine whether the accusations in the FIR, as they stand, place the matter within the purview of Section 306 read with Section 34 of the IPC, therefore the Supreme Court was now called upon to do so.

The Supreme Court stated that the suicide note indicated the deceased’s state of suffering and cannot be interpreted as reflecting anything deliberate on the part of the accused that the deceased would commit suicide.

According to the Supreme Court, if the High Court had carried out the required procedure, it would have been clear that the elements of the offence had not been proved prima facie. As a result of its inability to carry out its role under Section 482, the High Court has barred itself from exercising its authority under Article 226 to entertain the appellant’s bail application. When evaluating such an application under Article 226, the High Court must exercise its authority with caution based on the facts of each case. However, the High Court should not abstain from using its authority where a citizen has been unlawfully deprived of their personal liberty due to an excess of state power.

Therefore, the petition under Section 482 was granted and the FIR was quashed, overturning the High Court’s decision. Taking these parameters into account, the order dated 11 November 2020 called for the appellants’ release on bail.

Supreme Court’s views on Personal Liberty

The Court held that human liberty is a valuable constitutional asset that is unquestionably susceptible to restriction by lawfully passed laws. As a result, the citizen is subject to the order of criminal law and process. Section 482 further acknowledges the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction to issue such orders as are required to give effect to the provisions of the CrPC and prohibit abuse of any of the Court’s processes, or otherwise secure the ends of justice.

According to the Supreme Court, the High Courts must be seen as an assistant to the preservation of the fundamental value of liberty. Moreover, the fabric of the Constitution is woven with the writ of liberty. The requirement to ensure impartial investigation of crime is undeniably essential in itself because it protects, at one level, the victim’s rights and, at a more basic level, the interest of the society in ensuring that crime is investigated and dealt with in accordance with applicable law. On the other hand, the abuse of criminal law is something that the High Court and subordinate courts in this nation must be aware of.

According to the Supreme Court, courts must be mindful of the need to protect the public interest by ensuring that the proper implementation of criminal law is not hampered. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to the same. It is also the responsibility of the courts at all levels, i.e. district courts, high courts, and the Supreme Court, to guarantee that the criminal law does not become a tool for the selective harassment of people. Courts should be aware of both sides of the spectrum i.e. the need to guarantee appropriate criminal law enforcement on the one hand and the need to ensure that the law does not become a pretext for targeted harassment on the other. Liberty across human generations is as tenuous as can be. Liberty thrives via the vigilance of her citizens, the clamour of the media, and the dusty hallways of courts dedicated to the rule of (rather than by) law. Yet, far too frequently, liberty suffers as a result of one of these components failing.

The Court thus noted that as judges, they would do well to remember that it is through the use of bail that the criminal justice system’s primary purpose in upholding the presumption of innocence is expressed most eloquently. The bail remedy is a solemn manifestation of the judicial system’s humanity. It is a sincere hope that Indian Courts will be acutely aware of the need to broaden the footprint of liberty and will utilize the present judgment’s methodology as a decision-making yardstick in future bail cases.

Conclusion

The Court had, therefore, ordered that all three appellants including Arnab Goswami be released on bail until the outcome of the proceedings before the High Court. The interim protection given to the accused by the decision of 11 November 2020 was to stay in effect until the procedures before the High Court were concluded.

Therefore, this case is a perfect example of how much the Indian courts, especially the Apex Court of India, are committed to the idea of the preservation of an individual’s personal liberty.

 References


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