The Supreme Court on Friday issued a contempt notice to the Maharashtra assembly’s assistant secretary for allegedly “intimidating” journalist Arnab Goswami for approaching the top court last month with transcripts of a debate on a breach of privilege motion initiated against him in connection with his television show on actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
Goswami was arrested by Mumbai Police earlier this week in connection with the 2018 suicide of an interior designer. There was no immediate relief for him on Friday as the hearing on his interim bail plea before the Bombay high court remained incomplete. The division bench of Justice SS Shinde and Justice MS Karnik is likely to decide on his bail plea Saturday.
An October 13 letter by the assembly’s assistant secretary purportedly cautioned him against disclosing House proceedings without the Speaker’s approval even as the editor-in-chief of Republic TV approached the apex court against the initiation of the privilege motion.
The Supreme Court stayed Goswami’s arrest in this particular case and said it is “unprecedented” and “serious” that a state legislature is threatening a citizen for approaching the apex court with documents, which he received from the assembly as part of a notice asking him to explain his stand.
The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, also allowed Goswami to add the Union government as a party to the case, issued a notice to attorney general KK Venugopal, and appointed senior advocate Arvind Datar to assist the court as an amicus curiae. It posted the matter for November 23 and asked the secretary, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, to be present during the hearing.
“There is no doubt that if a citizen of India is deterred in any case from approaching this court in exercise of his right under Article 32 (allowing citizens to move Supreme Court for enforcement of fundamental rights) of the Constitution of India, it would amount to a serious and direct interference in the administration of justice in the country,” the bench, also comprising Justice AS Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian, said in its order.
The privilege motion case in the Supreme Court pertains to a news show hosted by Goswami, who accused the Maharashtra government of not going in the right direction in the Rajput death probe and allegedly made derogatory comments targeted at chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, according to House proceedings.
Following this, proceedings were initiated on a breach of privilege motion moved on September 9 by Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik. Goswami later filed a petition in the top court with transcripts of the debate seeking a stay on the motion.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who appeared for Goswami, produced an affidavit to bring the letter on record. “This is a matter of utmost seriousness… At times, constitutional courts must see the reality, and not the smokescreen. I want a stay of any further proceedings in this matter,” Salve said.
CJI Bobde termed the matter “very serious” and said: “We have never seen such a letter in a privilege case. We find it very difficult to overlook it. How dare this officer say this?”
The bench then show-caused Vilas Athawale, assistant secretary, Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, and asked as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented the Maharashtra government, informed the court that no action was expected to be taken against Goswami in the privilege motion case.
Rajendra Bhagwat, secretary, Maharashtra legislative assembly, refused to react on the matter, saying it is sub-judice.
Meanwhile, a division bench of the Bombay high court will continue to hear on Saturday the bail petition filed Goswami.
Goswami was picked up from his home in Lower Parel by Alibag Police on charges of allegedly abetting the suicide of a 53-year-old Anvay Naik.
Naik and his mother Kumud were found dead at their house in May 2018. A suicide note alleged that the two were forced to end their lives because he was not paid dues amounting to ₹5.4 crore by Goswami, two others.
(With inputs from HTC Mumbai)