The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce verdict on Tuesday on plea by Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, seeking to quash multiple FIRs lodged against him in various states over his alleged defamatory statements against Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi in a news show relating to Palghar mob-lynching case.
A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud will also deliver its judgement on another plea of Goswami seeking to quash the FIR lodged on May 2, against him by Mumbai Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by making some remarks during his news show.
The top court on May 11 had directed that no coercive action should be taken against Goswami in the fresh FIR lodged by Mumbai police and had reserved its verdict on both of his petitions.
Goswami had claimed in the top court that he was interrogated by Mumbai Police for over 12 hours with regard to FIR on alleged defamatory statements and one of the two investigating officers probing the case against him has tested positive for Covid-19.
Maharashtra government had also moved the apex court alleging that Goswami has been misusing protection granted by the top court and has been “browbeating” the police by “creating fear psychosis”.
During the hearing on May 11, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, had argued that this case is all about a political party targeting a journalist as the complainants are members of one particular party.
“This will have a chilling effect on freedom of press,” he had said, adding that press is not institutionalized but other institutions are protected and there are safeguards, wherein judges, MPs and bureaucrats are protected.
The top court had told Salve that points raised by him could be argued before the Bombay High Court either in an anticipatory bail plea or petition for quashing of the case.
It had said the court can give liberty to Goswami to approach the High Court after the expiry of interim protection already given to him by the apex court earlier in the cases related to Palghar incident.
The top court had said if Goswami wanted quashing of the FIRs lodged in Bombay, including the fresh one, he can move the high court.
It had added that the court had earlier intervened in the matter due to multiplicity of FIRs arising out of the same cause of action.
“We must ensure somebody is not subject to harassment but we should not create an environment where anybody in particular is exempted from the normal course of proceedings,” the bench had observed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Centre, had told the bench that this is a peculiar case as the accused is saying that police is pressurizing him and interrogating him for 12 hours whereas the police has also come to the court to insulate it from any pressure and threat.
He said that since the accused has made allegations against the police, which too has made certain accusations, then the court must look at the possibility of having an independent investigation agency like CBI to probe it.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Maharashtra government, had said that this is a clear violation of Article 19 and Goswami cannot stigmatise people by way of sensationalising things.
At the fag end of the hearing, the bench had pointed out that the multiple FIRs are word-to-word same.
Sibal had contended that if they (FIRs) are same, then court can quash them as it is quite possible that Congress workers may have placed copy of the first FIR, when they went ahead with lodging of complaints.
The top court on April 24 had granted 3-week protection to Goswami against any coercive steps in connection with some FIRs lodged against him in various states for alleged defamatory statements made during news shows on Palghar mob-lynching of three persons, including two saints in Maharashtra.
The May 2 FIR was lodged in Mumbai against him and two others for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by making derogatory remark regarding a mosque located in suburban Bandra, a Mumbai Police officer had said.
Hundreds of migrant workers had gathered in Bandra on April 14 demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced extension of the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 till May 3.
The FIR was lodged in Pydhonie police station in south Mumbai on May 2 by Irfan Abubakar Sheikh, secretary of Raza Education Welfare Society.