The Bombay high court will hear on Friday a petition by Republic TV editor-in- chief Arnab Goswami seeking interim bail in the 2018 abetment of suicide case in which he was arrested on Wednesday, setting off a political storm with many leaders comparing the development with the Emergency.
Goswami, 47, was arrested by Alibag Police on Wednesday from his residence for allegedly abetting the suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik in May 2018. He later claimed he was assaulted by officers – a charge refuted by police. Late Wednesday night, a magistrate’s court in Alibag remanded Goswami to judicial custody till November 18. The anchor spent the night at Alibag Nagar Parishad School, which is designated as a Covid-19 centre of the Alibag prison, officials said.
On Thursday, Goswami’s lawyers moved the high court, seeking a stay on the investigation and a direction to the police to release him. They also asked that the FIR against him be quashed.
“He has been wrongly and illegally arrested in a motivated, false and closed case. This is another attempt of political witch-hunt against the petitioner and his channel,” the petition said.
“The arrest was conducted in blatant violation of the fundamental rights to life and personal liberty of the petitioner (Goswami) and his dignity,” it added.
A division bench of justices SS Shinde and MS Karnik directed Goswami to make the complainant, Akshata Naik, Naik’s wife, a respondent. “We have to hear all the parties concerned before considering the interim relief sought,” the bench said. “The respondents (Maharashtra government and the complainant) are entitled to respond….We will consider the interim relief sought tomorrow,” the court said.
In Alibag, the local police filed a revision application in the sessions court against Goswami after the court observed the journalist’s arrest appeared illegal. The application will be heard Saturday.
In her order, chief judicial magistrate Sunayana S Pingale noted the prosecution failed to prima facie establish a link between the deceased and accused. “In view of the objections raised by the defence lawyers and grounds raised by the prosecution to seek police custody, the arrest itself appears illegal. After careful screening of the document, it appears that the connection between the incident and the deaths of two people, the connection between the deceased and the accused should have been determined before seeking police custody. Only if this chain of circumstances is intact, the connection of the incident with the accused can be established to seek police custody of the accused.”
Senior counsel Abad Ponda, appearing for Goswami, said a bail plea filed before the Alibag court was withdrawn. “The magistrate had not given clarity on when the bail plea would be heard and had also expressed difficultly in hearing the same as the case lies in the jurisdiction of the sessions court.”
Senior advocate Harish Salve, also appearing for Goswami, argued that no prejudice will be caused to the prosecution if he was released on bail.
Naik and his mother Kumud Naik were found dead at their farmhouse in Alibag on May, 2018. Naik’s wife Akshata Naik then registered a case. A suicide note alleged Naik and his mother were forced to end their lives because he was not paid dues amounting to ₹5.4 crore by Goswami and two others. At the time, local police closed the case because of insufficient evidence.
The two others named in the note — Feroz Shaikh, owner of technology firm IcastX /Skimedia, and Nitesh Sarda, owner of firm Smartwork – were also arrested by police.
In the FIR, police claimed ARG Outlier Media Private Limited – the parent company of Republic TV – didn’t pay dues of ₹83 lakh to Naik for building Republic TV’s studios, called the Bombay Dyeing Studio Project.
Police also alleged that Shaikh didn’t pay Naik ₹4 crore for his project in Andheri in Mumbai; and Sarda didn’t pay ₹55 lakh for his projects at Magarpatta and Baner in Pune.
Other than this, Goswami, his wife and son also face an FIR by Mumbai Police for allegedly assaulting a police official.
In the high court, Goswami’s lawyers argued that police resurrected a dead case in which a closure report was filed. It claimed that in May 2018, police recorded the statements of Goswami and two senior officials of Republic TV, and he also provided documents to the police about the business transactions with Naik’s company. ARG Outlier paid over 90% of the amount due to Naik.
“In July 2019, the entire balance amount due was transferred to the bank account of Naik’s company but the amount was returned because the account was inoperative,” it said.
The arrest of the right-leaning anchor had sparked a political row on Wednesday with senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including Union home minister Amit Shah, comparing the situation to the Emergency. The Congress and Shiv Sena, which rule Maharashtra in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party, pushed back on the criticism and called it selective outrage.
On Thursday, BJP legislator Ram Kadam met governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari seeking action against police officials while Sena leader Sanjay Raut urged central ministers and BJP leaders to meet Naik’s family.
The case has acquired a political hue because of the bad blood between Goswami and his channel on one side, and the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai Police on the other.