Supreme Court: The bench Dr DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has refused to transfer to CBI the criminal cases lodged against Republic TV Editor in-Chief Arnab Goswami for alleged defamatory news show telecast on April 21 in connection with the Palghar mob-lynching case. It also quashed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has been transferred to Mumbai via order dated 24.04.2020. The Court, however, held,

“The petitioner would be at liberty to pursue such remedies as are available in law under the CrPC before the competent forum. Any such application shall be considered on its own merits by the competent court”

The Court further directed that the protection granted to the Goswami on 24 April 2020 against coercive steps be extended for a period of three weeks to enable him to pursue the remedies available in law. It also asked the CP, Mumbai to consider the request of Goswami for the provision of security at his residence and business establishment in Mumbai, in accordance with law.

“Based on the threat perception, police protection may be provided if it is considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.”

Factual Background

Goswami had attacked Sonia Gandhi in one of his shows on Republic TV and had claimed that she had orchestrated the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra, where 3 Hindu religious leaders, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the incident and asked if she would have been quiet if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders.

After the incident was given a communal angle, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching, and said none of those arrested were Muslim.Goswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.

On refusing to transfer the matter to CBI

On the scope of power to transfer the case to CBI, the  no inflexible guidelines are laid down, the notion that such a transfer is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and “in exceptional circumstances” comports with the idea that routine transfers would belie not just public confidence in the normal course of law but also render meaningless the extraordinary situations that warrant the exercise of the power to transfer the investigation.

“An accused person does not have a choice in regard to the mode or manner in which the investigation should be carried out or in regard to the investigating agency.”

The Court considered the fact that Goswami had requested for and consented to the transfer of the investigation of the FIR from the Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai. He did so because an earlier FIR lodged by him at that police station was under investigation. The Court was irked by the fact that Goswami now sought to preempt an investigation by the Mumbai police on untenable grounds.

Grounds on which transfer was sought

    1. The length of the interrogation which took place on 27 April 2020;
    2. The nature of the inquiries which were addressed to the Petitioner and the CFO and the questions addressed during interrogation;
    3. The allegations leveled by the petitioner against the failure of the State government to adequately probe the incident at Palghar involving an alleged lynching of two persons in the presence of police and forest department personnel;
    4. Allegations which have been made by the petitioner on 28 April 2020 in regard to CP, Mumbai; and
    5. Tweets on the social media by activists of the INC and the interview by the complainant to a representative of R Bharat.

Noticing that as long as the investigation does not violate any provision of law, the investigation agency is vested with the discretion in directing the course of investigation, which includes determining the nature of the questions and the manner of interrogation, the Court said,

“The line of interrogation either of the petitioner or of the CFO cannot be controlled or dictated by the persons under investigation/interrogation”

It was noticed that though an individual under investigation has a legitimate expectation of a fair process which accords with law,

“The displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation (as in the present case) of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of this Court to transfer an investigation to the CBI.”

On quashment of all but one FIR

The Court stated that the filing of multiple FIRs arising out of the same telecast of the show hosted by the petitioner is an abuse of the process and impermissible. Hence, stating that it has not gone into the merits of any of the FIRs, the Court directed,

“No other FIR or, as the case may be, complaint shall be initiated or pursued in any other forum in respect of the same cause of action emanating from the broadcast on 21 April 2020 by the petitioner on R Bharat.”

It, further, clarified that any other FIRs or complaints in respect of the same cause of action emanating from the broadcast on 21 April 2020, other than the FIRs or complaints quashed by the Court, are also not maintainable.

On non-quashment of FIR transferred to Mumbai from Nagpur

The Court noticed that the FIR which is now under investigation at the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai does not and cannot cover any alleged act of criminal defamation.

It, hence, said that it would be inappropriate for the court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution for the purpose of quashing FIR under investigation at the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai considering that the checks and balances to ensure the protection of the Goswami’s liberty are governed by the CrPC.

It further took note of the fact that despite the liberty being granted to Goswami on 24 April 2020, he did not pursue available remedies in the law, but sought instead to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court. Whether the allegations contained in the FIR do or do not make out any offence as alleged will not be decided in pursuance of the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32, to quash the FIR. Stating that Goswami has an equally efficacious remedy available before the High Court, the Court said that he must be relegated to the pursuit of the remedies available under the CrPC.

It, however, clarified,

“We should not be construed as holding that a petition under Article 32 is not maintainable. But when the High Court has the power under Section 482, there is no reason to by-pass the procedure under the CrPC, we see no exceptional grounds or reasons to entertain this petition under Article 32. There is a clear distinction between the maintainability of a petition and whether it should be entertained. In a situation like this, and for the reasons stated hereinabove, this Court would not like to entertain the petition under Article 32 for the relief of quashing the FIR being investigated at the NM Joshi Police Station in Mumbai which can be considered by the High Court.”

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 462 , decided on 19.05.2020]

Also read: 

SC grants 3 weeks protection from arrest to Arnab Goswami; stays all but one FIR

Verdict reserved; Goswami’s interim protection extended till the delivery of judgment

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