The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted interim bail to journalist Arnab Goswami in the 2018 abetment to suicide case, saying it will be a "travesty of justice" if "personal liberty is curtailed".
The apex court also expressed concern over state governments targeting individuals on the basis of ideology.
The court granted interim bail to two others in the case -- Neetish Sarda and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh -- on personal bond of Rs 50,000 each and directed that they shall not tamper with the evidence and shall cooperate in the probe.
A vacation bench of Justices DY. .Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, which ordered that the accused shall not try to meet any witnesses in the case, said their release should not be delayed and the prison authorities should facilitate this.
The bench said personal bonds are to be furnished to the superintendent of Taloja jail instead of the magisterial court.
Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, has challenged the Bombay High Court’s November 9 order refusing to grant him and the two others interim bail in the case and asking them to move the trial court for relief.
The accused were arrested by Alibaug police in Maharashtra's Raigad district on November 4 in connection with the suicide of architect-interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother in 2018 over alleged non-payment of dues by companies of the accused.
During the day-long arguments, the top court said if state governments target individuals, they must realise then that there is apex court to protect the liberty of citizens.
Observing that it would be a travesty of justice if personal liberty of a person is curtailed like this, the bench also expressed concern over state governments targeting some individuals on the basis of ideology and difference of opinion.
“We are seeing case after case where high courts are not granting bail and failing to protect personal liberty of people,” the bench said.
The bench asked Maharashtra whether there was any need for custodial interrogation of Goswami, and said the issue pertains to “personal liberty”.
It observed that Indian democracy is “extraordinarily resilient” and the Maharashtra government must ignore all this (Arnab’s taunt on TV).
“Whatever be his ideology. Least, I don’t even watch his channel. But, if in this case Constitutional Courts do not interfere today, we are travelling the path of destruction undeniably,” Justice Chandrachud said, adding, “The point is can you deny personal liberty of a person on these allegations”.
“If the government targets individuals on this basis...You may not like television channels but this should not happen,” the apex court said.
It observed that assuming the FIR is “Gospel truth” but that is a matter of investigation.
“Is not paying up money abetment to suicide? It will be a travesty of justice if bail is not granted while FIR is pending,” the bench told senior advocate Kapil Sibal who was appearing for the state.
“’A’ does not pay money to 'B', and is this the case of abetment of suicide? If the high court does not act in matters like this, there will be complete destruction of personal liberty. We are deeply concerned for this. If we don't act in matters like this then it will be very disturbing,” the court said.
Justice Chandrachud observed that courts are being attacked for judgements delivered by them and, “I often ask my law clerk and they say that Sir, please don't look at tweets”.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, referred to various cases lodged against him and the channel and alleged that Maharashtra government is targeting him.
“This is not an ordinary case and the Bombay High Court being a constitutional court should have taken note of the incidents. Is this a case where Arnab Goswami is put in Taloja jail with hardened criminals,” Salve said.
“I would urge the case to be transferred to the CBI and punish him if he is guilty. What will happen if a person is granted ad-interim bail,” he said.
Sibal referred to the facts of the case and said that details of the investigation conducted in the matter are not before the apex court and if it intervenes at this stage, it would set a dangerous precedent.
Senior lawyer Amit Desai, also appearing for the state, said this is not a case where the court should exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction to grant bail at the interim stage.
He said the state's ability to investigate a criminal case has to be respected.
The hearing in the case is going on and would continue in the post-lunch session.
The high court, while rejecting the interim bail pleas of Goswami and the two other accused, had said, "no case has been made out for us (court) to exercise our extraordinary jurisdiction".
Apart from seeking the interim bail, the journalist and other accused had also sought a direction from the high court for staying the investigation into the case and quash the FIR against them.
The high court will hear their pleas seeking to quash the FIR on December 10.
Goswami was arrested on November 4 from his Lower Parel residence in Mumbai and taken to Alibaug in neighbouring Raigad district.
He and the two other accused were later produced before a magistrate who refused to send them in police custody and remanded them in judicial custody till November 18.
Goswami was initially kept at a local school which is designated as a Covid-19 quarantine centre for the Alibaug prison.
He was on Sunday shifted to the Taloja jail in Raigad district after allegedly being found using a mobile phone while in judicial custody.