Case BriefsSupreme Court

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

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has reserved it’s judgment in the petition filed by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, challenging the FIRs registered against him in various parts of the country for alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. While doing so, it directed,

“Until the judgment is pronounced by this Court, the protection which was granted to the petitioner in paragraph 13(iv) of the order dated 24 April 2020 shall continue to remain in operation.”

On April 24, 2020, the Court had granted 3 weeks of interim protection and no coercive action against the petitioner, Arnab Goswami and had further directed,

“For a period of three weeks, the petitioner shall be protected against any coercive steps arising out of and in relation to the above FIR arising out of the telecast which took place on 21 April 2020.”

Resultantly, the Court had stayed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has now been transferred to Mumbai

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 quite 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.

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 450 , order dated 11.05.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the petition filed by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, challenging the FIRs registered against him in various parts of the country for alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has granted 3 weeks of interim protection and no coercive action against the petitioner, Arnab Goswami. He can move an anticipatory bail application in three weeks

“For a period of three weeks, the petitioner shall be protected against any coercive steps arising out of and in relation to the above FIR arising out of the telecast which took place on 21 April 2020.”

Resultantly, the Court stayed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has now been transferred to Mumbai.

“further proceedings shall remain stayed, pending further orders of this Court, in respect of any other FIR or, as the case may be, criminal complaint which has been filed or which may be filed hereafter, with respect to the same incident”

Directing Mumbai Police Commissioner to provide security to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV, the Court said,

“In addition to the personal security provided to the petitioner, if a request is made by the petitioner to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai for providing adequate security at the residence of the petitioner or at the studio of Republic TV in Mumbai, such a request shall be expeditiously considered and, based on the threat perception, police protection shall be provided, if considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.”

The Court kept the following considerations kept in mind while granting the abovementioned relief to Arnab Goswami:

  • The need to ensure that the criminal process does not assume the character of a vexatious exercise by the institution of multifarious complaints founded on the same cause in multiple States;
  • The need for the law to protect journalistic freedom within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution;
  • The requirement that recourse be taken to the remedies available to every citizen in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973;
  • Ensuring that in order to enable the citizen to pursue legal remedies, a protection of personal liberty against coercive steps be granted for a limited duration in the meantime;
  • The investigation of an FIR should be allowed to take place in accordance with law without this Court deploying its jurisdiction under Article 32 to obstruct the due process of law; and
  • Assuaging the apprehension of the petitioner of 7 a threat to his safety and the safety of his business establishment.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra, told the Court

“You are creating communal violence by citing such statements, if FIRs have been registered, how can you quash it at this stage? Let the people be investigated, what is wrong in it?”

Advocate Vivek Tankha, appearing for Chhattisgarh Government, sought for a restraint order on Arnab Goswami from making such statements.

Justice Chandrachud said,

“Speaking for myself I believe there should be no restraint on the media. I am averse to imposing any restrictions on media”.

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 quite 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 MuslimGoswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION(CRIMINAL) Diary No(s).11006/2020, order dated 24.04.2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: After UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi sought adjournment of appeals challenging the Income Tax department’s decision to re-open tax assessment related to the National Herald and Young India transactions, the Court has fixed April 23 as the date of next hearing in the case.

The Delhi High Court had last year rejected the plea by the Gandhis challenging the IT notice seeking tax reassessment for the
financial year 2011-2012. The reassessment notice for 2011-2012 had been issued by the department in March 2018.
The I-T department had told the High Court that the All India Congress Committee had transferred funds to the tune of Rs 99 crore to Associate Journal Ltd, adding that Rahul Gandhi had willfully chosen to not disclose the fact that he held the director’s post at Young India.
However, Rahul Gandhi’s counsel asserted that the Congress President did not receive any income from the source, and
hence is not liable for any tax.

The National Herald scam is an ongoing case filed in 2012 by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy against Sonia, Rahul, their companies and associates. He alleges that Associated Journals Limited (AJL) took an interest-free loan of ?90.25 crore (US$13 million) from Indian National Congress.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court:  Dismissing an election petition with costs challenging the election of Mrs Sonia Gandhi to the Lok Sabha from Rae Bareily Constituency on May 16, 2014 and her entitlement to be registered as an Indian citizen, the Court held that grant of citizenship cannot be challenged at this belated stage. The Court also observed that the petition lacked in material facts and did not constitute a complete cause of action.

Mrs Gandhi’s election was challenged on the ground that she was not a citizen of India as the words “citizens of India” under Article 84 of the Constitution referred to those persons who were citizens by birth or descent and not those who had acquired citizenship by registration. Besides, appeal by various  religious leaders to vote for her on religious lines during the election campaign amounted to corrupt practice and rendered her election void under Section 100(1)(b) of the Representation of People Act, 1951. The petitioner also challenged Section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, Rule 4 of the Citizenship Rules, 1956 and Form III prescribed therein as unconstitutional.

The Bench of Tarun Agarwala, J. held that as long as the certificate of citizenship issued under Section 5 was not challenged as in the instant case, the presumption of the validity of the certificate continues to remain in existence in view of Section 114 of the Evidence Act. The Court will presume that the certificate was validly issued by the prescribed authority after satisfying itself that the said person was entitled for grant of registration in her favour. The Court observed that since the petitioner had admitted that the respondent was granted Indian citizenship on 30th April, 1983, coupled with the fact that there is no challenge by the petitioner to the acquisition of the citizenship upon the respondent, such plea cannot be looked into at this belated stage after three decades. Such registration is still continuing and has not been cancelled, withdrawn or annulled till date. So long as the order issued under Section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act stands, Mrs Gandhi continues to remain a citizen of India.

As for the contention of indulging in corrupt practice, the Court observed that t is clear that the appeal to vote on the ground of religion must be the religion of that candidate. The appeal is to be made on the basis of the religion of the candidate for whom votes are solicited. There is no such assertion to this effect in the election petition. In fact the assertion is, that the appeal was to garner Muslim votes. Admittedly the respondent is not a Muslim. In order to constitute corrupt practice, it must be shown that the act was done during the election campaign between the date when the respondent became a candidate and the date of poll and that it was the act of the respondent or her agent or any other person with her consent to appeal to vote on the ground of her religion. As material facts are lacking, the Court found no cause of action arose on this issue. [Ramesh Singh v. Sonia Gandhi, 2016 SCC OnLine All 451, decided on  July 11, 2016]