The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and two others accused in a 2018 abetment to suicide case, reported Bar and Bench.

“We hold High Court was incorrect in not granting bail. Arnab Goswami and two other accused,” a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said. The accused have been released on a bond of Rs 50,000 each.

The Supreme Court’s order also directed the police to release the accused immediately.

“The High Court made a gross mistake,” the top court said, according to Live Law. “The question whether enquiry could have started is up for consideration. If there are serious questions to be tried, why no interim relief? If the High Court felt there were serious questions for consideration, why no interim release was granted to him?”

Goswami and two other people – Feroz Shaikh and Nitesh Sarda – had challenged the Bombay High Court’s order rejecting their interim bail plea in the top court. Shaikh and Sarda’s plea for interim release were also accepted. The hearing lasted for over five hours, with a break in between.

The accused are alleged to have failed to pay money they owed to an interior designer named Anvay Naik, managing director of Concorde Designs Private Limited. Naik and his mother were found dead in their home in Kavir village near Mumbai in 2018. A suicide note said that the Goswami, Shaikh and Sarda had not paid dues amounting to Rs 5.4 crore.

Earlier in the day, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the journalist said he was “a target of collateral damage.”

“Documents show that amount was paid by the accused [Goswami] to all vendors. Concorde designs was financially stressed for the last seven years,” Salve said.

He also referred to a Alibaug court’s observation that Goswami’s arrest appears to be illegal. “Prima facie link between accused and suicide cannot be created,” he said. “The judge should have released him on bond. That was not to be. Hence this plea before you. Not just quashing FIR.”

Goswami’s lawyer also claimed that Akshata Naik, the wife of Anvay, wrote a “nasty letter” this year. “The person [Anvay Naik] was in financial difficulty and thereafter committed suicide, but how can it be abetment to suicide,” Salve asked the court. “As per Anvay Naik’s suicide note, Arnab Goswami owes Rs 83 lakhs where more than Rs 5 crores have been paid to Concorde. Documents show that.”

Justice Chandrachud said the Bombay High Court wrote a 56-page detailed order, but did not deal with a basic question on whether an offence was made out prima facie in the case. “In a matter like this when some dues was not paid, would a suicide mean abetment,” he questioned. “Would it not be a travesty of justice if someone is denied bail for this? Is there an active incitement to suicide? Can you say that it is a case for custodial interrogation?”

Chandrachud stated that high courts were denying personal liberty in several cases, Live Law reported. “We must send a message today to the High Courts as well: Please exercise your jurisdiction to uphold personal liberty,” he said.

Citing the FIR, Chandrachud also said that Anvay Naik suffered from mental stress. “For Section 306, abetment there needs to be actual incitement,” he added. “[if] one owes money to another and they commit suicide would it be abetment?”

Chandrachud went on to say that if the Supreme Court did not interfere in the case, then they “will walk on path of destruction”.

The judges asked the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government whether there was any need for custodial interrogation of Goswami as the matter pertained to personal liberty, according to PTI. They also observed that Indian democracy was extraordinarily resilient and said the Maharashtra government must ignore Goswami’s reportage and taunts. “This is not the basis on which elections are fought,” the court said.

Salve urged the Supreme Court to transfer the proceedings, investigate Goswami, and send him to jail if found guilty. “Will heavens fall if the man is released,” he asked. “Why will you arrest him and then put him in Taloja with hardened criminals? This cannot be assumed to be yet another criminal case. State [Maharashtra government] is not treating it like that.”

However, Kapil Sibal, for the Maharashtra government, told the court that intervention at this stage in the case will set a dangerous precedent. Advocate Amit Desai, also appearing for the state government said it will have “great ramifications on the administration of the criminal justice system”, if the top court makes an exception in this case. Responding to Goswami’s lawyers’ submission that the FIR filed against him does not “disclose an offence”, Desai said that “it will disrupt the entire scheme of criminal justice system”, if bail is granted on those grounds.

Goswami is currently in judicial custody at the Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai after he was arrested on November 4.

In 2019, the Maharashtra Police had closed the case. However, on November 4, Goswami was arrested and remanded to 14-judicial custody, with the police stating that they were now investigating the matter again.

Also read:

Arnab Goswami case: Is ‘non-payment of dues’ legitimate grounds to claim abetment to suicide?