Shinde govt withdraws plea from SC challenging HC order on FIRs against Arnab Goswami
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday permitted the Maharashtra government to withdraw an appeal filed by the state during the previous Uddhav Thackeray dispensation against a Bombay High Court’s 2020 order suspending the probe in two FIRs filed against Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami for allegedly making inflammatory comments.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli took note of the submissions of the counsel of Maharashtra that he wanted to withdraw the plea which was filed against the interim order of the Bombay High Court.
The appeal against the high court order was filed in the top court when the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by the then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was ruling the state. It was replaced by the NDA government led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on June 30 after a revolt in the Shiv Sena.
“The order of the high court is an interim order. I have the instructions to withdraw it,” the counsel for the state government told the bench at the outset of the brief hearing on Monday. “Dismissed as withdrawn,” the bench ordered.
The high court, in 2020, had stayed the investigation into two FIRs filed against Goswami for allegedly making inflammatory comments during news programmes.
The FIRs pertain to Goswami’s comments in TV programmes about the Palghar lynching incident and migrants gathering in large numbers in Mumbai’s Bandra area during the Covid-induced lockdown.
On October 26, 2020, the top court observed that some people are targeted with “greater intensity” and need more protection.
The Maharashtra government, which was then ruled by Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi, had opposed the high court’s decision to stay the police probe against Goswami.
The top court had sought a response from Goswami and others on the appeal filed by the state government.
In its June 30, 2020 order, the high court noted that while Goswami’s comments targeted the Congress and its then president Sonia Gandhi, he did not make any statement that would cause public disharmony or incite violence between different religious groups.
Citing observations made by the Supreme Court that India’s freedom will rest safe as long as journalists can speak to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal, the high court had said in its order that free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to any one position.
While admitting for the final hearing Goswami’s petition seeking quashing of the two FIRs, the high court had directed the police not to take any coercive action until the disposal of the plea.
Two FIRs were filed against Goswami – one in Nagpur, which was later transferred to N M Joshi Marg police station in Mumbai following directions from the Supreme Court, and another at Pydhonie police station.
The one filed in Nagpur was about a news show aired on the channel on April 21, 2020 about the Palghar incident where two religious leaders and their driver were lynched.
The Pydhonie case followed a show aired by Republic TV on April 29, 2020 where Goswami had referred to migrants gathering near a mosque outside the Bandra railway terminus during the lockdown.