Most people have in last few weeks seen how editor-in-chief and promoter of Republic media network was allegedly hounded and targeted by Mumbai Police and the State Government of Maharashtra. However, the most unthinkable and shocking incident was witnessed on November 4, 2020 when everyone woke up to images of AK 47 armed police officers and SPG commandos raiding Arnab’s house in the wee hours of morning to arrest him on a matter which was investigated and closed couple of years back. He was taken from his home to Raigad Magistrate Court.
A saga of petition for release and bail were filed before the Magistrates and High Courts / Sessions Courts. It may be noteworthy that the Magistrate held that the arrest of Arnab was prima facie illegal but nevertheless gave judicial custody while refusing police custody.
While one hoped and Mr Harish Salve actually believed that the Bombay High Court would exercise the jurisdiction of Constitutional Court and grant the bail. However, the same was denied in the quagmire of legal and procedural technicalities and Arnab continued to be in jail for 6 days on what was clearly a case of an illegal arrest.
The case in which Arnab was arrested was regarding an FIR under section 306 of IPC registered in 2018 and summarily closed then, by the Police after evaluating the available evidences.
While on the face of it the case was not regarding freedom of expression but the events suggest that the re-opening would have a lot to do with the open criticism and dare and challenge by Mr Goswami of the high and mighty.
Further, the timing of these events and manner in which the same were carried out makes it appear that the intent to ensure that he does not get the opportunity to approach the highest courts in normal course and he remains behind bar during the Diwali vacation.
It is in this background that Arnab’s arrest is to be seen. Thus, the question is IF the State decides and uses all its machinery to put behind bars a journalist and actually succeeds in this endeavour, even where that is no prima facie case, will the Courts (especially Supreme Court) come to the rescue of such a citizen. It may be noted that the Petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution for protection of fundamental rights of citizens and is regularly being availed by citizens of India.
The point Mr Dave makes is why was Arnab’s petition taken in one day. While is not very unusual for such petitions to come within a week’s time if not the next day, what is important to note that this was an extraordinary case where the petitioner concerned was allegedly hounded by the State and did not get any relief from the Courts of State. Thus, he did not get any special privilege but was conferred extraordinary unfair treatment. Further, his fellow colleagues in Media who scream ‘facisim’ at the drop of the hat were largely muted (and had only condemned on paper). The fact that Supreme Court took note of this matter and directed his release, gives hope that the Courts in the Country are there to protect fundamental rights.
The point that Mr Dave seeks to make is that the case should be taken only in chronological order. In that case the writ and special leave petitions which are known to be admitted in much faster manner than the normal appeals under statute should be done away with. Further the practice of ‘mentioning’ in the court for a matter to heard quickly should also be done away with.
The fact that he spent 8 days in jail for an illegal arrest suggests that there no special treatment being afforded to him but a reasonable protection of his rights was secured by the SC while he is up against the GOLIATH. If this was not done and SC would not have acted in the manner it did then as indicated in the words of Justice Chandrachud it would lead to path of destruction. Also, it would build a perception that citizens are helpless and have no real remedy in such matters. It would also lead to a dangerous precedent where all other states may follow suit and media personnel would be hounded by the State to make them fall in line lest they would be visited with similar consequences. This is not the first instance where SC has taken a matter during vacation or that the court machinery has been moved for seeking justice arguable out of turn.
Mr Dave strangely decided to use his position at the Bar to bring matter of equality before SC and almost in a manner to stall the hearing and let Arnab be incarcerated. However, he never used this position in the past for similar indulgences granted by the Court. It appears that his acts were purely motivated and out of the fact that ideology of the group of the people that he generally represents runs counter to the nationalistic ideology that Arnab stands for.