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Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India 2020 14 SCC 12 - IRAC Analysis

The press is the fourth pillar of democracy after the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Without free and fair political discussion, no proper functioning of the government is possible. In the Indian express Vs. Union of India[1] case, it was held that the press plays a very significant role in a democracy and that courts must always uphold the freedom of press.

Everyone has a fundamental right to form his/her opinion on general concerns and journalists are an integral part of this dynamic system. While the courts may try their best to keep this intact, political figures and authorities have often used state machinery to threaten the freedom of media. This case is relevant due to the fact that Arnab R Goswami, a famous journalist was harassed with numerous FIRs.

Important Facts
Surrounding broadcasts aired on the 16th and 21st of April, 2020, several members of the Indian National Congress filed FIRs against Arnab Goswami in the states of Telangana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh among others.

Arnab Ranjan Goswami is the Editor-in-chief of Republic TV, a prominent news channel in India. He is an anchor, often during prime time, on both Republic TV (English) and R Bharat which is a Hindi News channel. Additionally, he is the Managing Director of ARG Outlier Media Asianet News private Limited. He was the petitioner in this case.

The broadcasts in question entailed Mr. Goswami talk about an incident popularly referred to as the Palghar Lynching. The incident took place on the 16th of April, 2020 in Gadchinchle village, Palghar district, Maharashtra. A mob brutally beat three people to death, two of whom were Sadhus i.e., priests in the Hindu religion. The horrific event allegedly happened in the presence of police personnel who just stood by and did nothing.

The matter gained national attention very quickly and was being reported by Arnab Goswami. In the presentation of the incident, he questioned Sonia Gandhi's silence on the issue at hand. Sonia Gandhi is the president of the INC which has a coalition government in Maharashtra. Apart from this, he accused her of orchestrating the mob lynching. Arnab asked some pointed questions including whether Sonia Gandhi would have remained silent if Christian or Muslim religious leaders had been murdered in the place of the sadhus.

The Palghar lynching was not being investigated properly as it involved the Maharashtra police directly. During this time, Arnab kept asking pertinent questions. This is when the petitioner alleges that a malicious and abusive series of actions were taken by the government. Prominently, complaints regarding violations of sections 500, 504, 506, 153 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code were filed by members of the INC in states where the governments were controlled by the INC.

Arnab Goswami also narrated an event which occurred on 23rd April. Around midnight, two people on a motorbike approached his car and were assaulted with projectiles. The TV anchor moved the court under Article 32 to enforce his right to freedom and expression as granted by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

Procedural History
The petitioner filed an interim Application alleging that the Mumbai police are not undertaking a fair and equitable investigation, and that the investigation is political in nature, humiliating the petitioner and his kin. He requested that the case be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation from the Mumbai Police. He sought protection at his workplace and residence. Further, he asked for a writ of prohibition against the state of Maharashtra to prevent them from filing an FIR with regard to the telecast.

On the 25th of April, 2020, the petitioner was summoned to the Police station as per section 41 (a) of the ode of Criminal procedure. The former expressed his willingness to appear before the officers through videoconferencing, keeping in mind the COVID 19 pandemic. This request was rejected and Mr. Goswami went to the police station where he was questioned vigorously by the Mumbai police for around 12 hours with very little breaks. He alleged that the police did not allow him to use his phone. He stated that the interrogation was on a very small segment of the telecast's entirety which went on repeatedly and was largely pointless.

The Mumbai police retaliated with an application of their own. They alleged that Arnab Goswami is causing an obstruction in the path of the investigation. The acts mentioned were the posts on Republic Bharat's Twitter profile and the petitioner's attempt to portray the Mumbai police of being biased. After the 12 hours of questioning, Mr. Goswami went on live television and spoke about the case and questioning. Further, he went on to accuse the Mumbai Commissioner of Police of playing a part in the India Bulls Scams.

The interim order to a large extent went in favor of Arnab Goswami. He was to be shielded from coercion for three weeks from the date of the verdict. The order also stated that if Mr. Goswami makes a request for security at his workplace or residence, the Mumbai Commissioner of Police would have to grant him the same. The police were asked to assess the threat to Arnab's life and provide required protection. This order also gave the petitioner the right to file for Anticipatory bail in the Bombay High Court as per section 438 of the CrPC, 1973. The court also stayed all FIRs brought against Mr. Goswami. The case was taken in the Supreme Court of India on the 19th of May, 2020

Issues at Hand
  1. Whether Arnab Goswami, who stands accused, can get the case investigated by an authority of his choice.
  2. Whether the Courts can consolidate the various similar FIRs under Article 32.
  3. Whether the statements made by Arnab Goswami on live TV fall under the protective ambit of Article 19 (1) (a) or can be restricted as per the provisions under Article 19 (2)

Contentions from both sides
The petition under article 32 of the Indian Constitution stated that the debate conducted by him on live TV was only done in order to question the incompetent investigation of the Palghar incident and the inconsistent versions of the authorities along with silence from the State government. The fact that the heinous event happened in front of police officers raised several questions about the rule of the coalition government in the state of Maharashtra. The petitioner denied the allegation of propagating communal views. He asked the court to establish his clear freedom of expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution[2]. The main reliefs sought were the quashing of all complaints and FIRs filed against Mr. Goswami in several states and a plea for protection for his family by the Union Government.

The petitioner submitted that the investigation against him was malicious and not fair. He stated that the method of investigation leads anyone to the conclusion that the authorities have acted in bad faith against the petitioner. Mr. Goswami went on to state that the investigation is politically motivated and launched with the sole objective of harassing the petitioner. Building on this, he submitted that the news channel was questioning the tardiness of the Maharashtra police in the Palghar incident and that this institution comes under the control of the state government, therefore showing a clear conflict of interest.

Government of Maharashtra
The Mumbai police submitted that the conduct of the petitioner was obstructing the investigation. It was stemming from the fact that when Mr. Goswami went to the NM Joshi Marg Police station, he was accompanied by a swarm of reporters. Some speeches were made here and telecasted live. After 4 hours of the interrogation, the twitter handle of Republic Bharat posted a message of "Truth will prevail". The tweets of Republic Bharat were posting further messages giving the impression that the Mumbai police are biased. The claim was that incessant pressure was put on the investigating agency and that this was halting the investigation.

Pertinent Rules
  1. Constitution of India - Articles 14, 19,21, 32 and 226
  2. Indian penal Code, 1961 - Sections 34, 153, 153A, 153B, 500, 504, 505, 506, 188, 290, 499
  3. Code of Criminal procedure, 1973 - Sections 41 (a), 91, 160, 482, 199, 173 (2), 154, 162

Ratio Decidendi
  • Issue 1 - The Accused cannot choose the investigating agency as that is against the principles of natural justice.
  • Issue 2 - The court can quash all FIRs except the first one because there are no new aspects of the case being brought up in the various FIRs
  • Issue 3 - Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. The case of incitement of communal tensions cannot be dismissed but another competent court may rule on the same after an investigation. Freedom of press is of absolute importance.


Choosing of investigating Agency
The first issue brought forth is the question whether the accused has a right to choose the agency investigating him. To answer this, the courts relied on the Maneka Gandhi v Union of India[3] case. In this case, the essence of article 21 was discussed and the Hon'ble Supreme Court had stated that the provision ensures that a process in the criminal trial is correct, just and equitable so as to not be unreasonable. The implication of this statement is that a trial must be done in a way that preserves the sanctity of the criminal Justice system's administration.
In the present case, the petition for transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation was denied.

The courts relied on the case of Romila Thapar v Union of India[4] wherein it was noted that the accused doesn't have a say in the matter of choosing the investigating agency. They also recalled the Narmada Bai v. State of Gujarat[5] case and declared that the consistent view of the Hon'ble SC has been that the accused cannot ask for changing the investigating agency. The court stated that an investigation may be transferred to CBI only in rare and exceptional cases. They said this is important to preserve the public confidence in the impartiality of the state agencies.

Personal Analysis
Precedent has been established in similar situations where it can be proven that the state government is acting maliciously. In the Inder Singh v. State of Punjab[6], 7 people were allegedly abducted by a senior police officer of the rank of Deputy Superintendent and some other policemen.

The people abducted were not heard from for a long period, a complaint was registered before the DGP of state. The P.A of the DGP delivered the complaint to the IG which led to an independent inquiry through the Superintendent of Police. The office of the Superintendent of Police suggested that the case must be filed against the officials as per section 364 of the IPC. Despite this, no case was registered. At this point, a writ petition was filed before the Apex Court for a fair and effective investigation into the episode.

The court allowed this petition and directed the CBI to conduct an independent investigation. Similarly, the SC has granted similar orders in cases where a police encounter killed 10 people. The CBI was once again was called upon for an unbiased investigation as the encounter was done by the state police[7].

It was submitted in this case that the questions asked during the investigation had no real bearing on the outcome of the case.

Some of the questions that were asked are as follows:
  1. Corporate structure of the petitioner's company.
  2. Process of obtaining broadcasting license by petitioner's news channels
  3. Whether the petitioner sends recordings of news reports on the channel to the central Government.
  4. Status of petitioner's residence - Own the house or rented house?

Quashing of FIRs
For this issue, the court relied on the case of TT Antony v State of Kerala. This case had interpreted sections 154 and 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Hon'ble SC had ruled that if the same cognizable offence has been charged in an FIR, a second FIR alleging the same cannot exist. They clearly stated that the filing of a new report on the same offence will not trigger a new investigation.

In the case of Ram Lal Narang and Ors v. State[8], it was held that a second FIR can be filed in respect of the same subject matter. This is the case as long as the second report contains new information and something pertinent to the case which wasn't present in the first report. In this case, it was observed that all the FIRs were very similar and all were trying to allege the same thing in different words. Hence they were all consolidated to one and the author agrees with this action. The court has balanced the tenets of the constitution namely, Article 19 and 21. The court took a clear stand that multiple FIRs are beyond the scope of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

FIR 164 of 2020 was not quashed. The court left this to other competent authorities to decide.

Freedom of Expression Balanced with reasonable restrictions
In the case of Romesh Thappar vs. State of Madras[9], the Supreme Court of India held that freedom of press is a part of freedom of speech and expression. The press is sometimes referred to as the fourth Pillar of democracy after the legislature, Judiciary and Executive and is thus an important aspect of dissent.

It was observed that without free political discussion, no proper functioning of government is possible. In the Indian express v UOI, It was held that the press plays a very significant role in a democracy and that courts must always uphold the freedom of press.

A very important case was the S Rangarajan vs. P Jagjivan Ram[10]. In this case it was held that everyone has a fundamental right to form his opinion on any issues of general concern. Intolerance is dangerous to a democratic system. In the famous case of Maneka Gandhi vs. UOI, it was held by the honorable SC that Freedom of speech and expression is not confined to national boundaries as well. While the freedom of expression of the media is quintessential, the right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions as per Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.

The courts have held that India's independence and democracy is safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power without fear of retaliation. The court said that allowing a journalist to face several lawsuits and FIRs across the country would have a suffocating impact on press freedom. If the courts keep investigating journalists, they deprive citizens of the right to know about the governance of the country in an unbiased manner. The court rightly said that:
free people cannot exist while the news media is pinned to a single point of view. Therefore, the courts took a moderate approach to balance both sides. They quashed all FIRs except one and preserved the provision of equal treatment under Article 14 as well.

The Universal declaration of Human Rights states that every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The court in this case however, refused to rule on Mr. Goswami's FIR for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by making disparaging remarks about a religious community. While the court's opinion that a journalist must have the freedom to seek, receive and speak about opinions and facts, he cannot injure religious sentiments. The press was rightly declared as the guardians of democracy.

In the Maneka Gandhi case, it was held that any denial or limitation imposed on a person's fundamental right has to be reasonable and not arbitrary. Another Notable case is the PUCL v. Union of India[11] in which it was clarified that Article 19 (1) (a) grants citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom in most contexts means the ability to express ones opinions and thoughts through speech or other forms of publication.

As stated earlier, if there was one thing the courts could have done differently, it was transferring the case to the CBI. This was indeed an exceptional case where the state government had shown some signs of malice. If every journalist were to be questioned for questioning a government's silence, we would have no members of press left to report freely.

  1. Indian Express Vs. Union Of India, 1986 AIR  515
  2. Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19 (1) (a)
  3. Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, 1970 2 SCC 298
  4. Romila Thapar v Union of India, 2016 1 SCC 1
  5. Narmada Bai v. State of Gujarat (2011) 5 SCC 79
  6. Inder Singh v. State of Punjab 1995 AIR 312
  7. R.S. Sodhi Advocate v. State of U.P. and Ors. 1994 (Supp) (1) SCC 143
  8. Ram Lal Narang Etc. Etc vs State Of Delhi (Admn.) 1979 AIR 1791
  9. Romesh Thappar vs State of Madras, 1950 AIR  124
  10. S Rangarajan vs P Jagjivan Ram, 1989 SCC  (2) 574
  11. People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, (1997) 1 SCC 301

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