New Delhi: When asked by senior advocate Kapil Sibal why the Supreme Court had heard Republic TV head Arnab Goswami’s bail plea even as it was pending in a lower court but was eager to push the plea against journalist Siddique Kappan’s arrest to a lower court, the Supreme Court tersely observed, “Every case is different.”
A bench of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian was hearing a habeas corpus petition by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) against Kappan’s detention. The Kerala-based journalist was arrested on his way to Hathras, where a young Dalit woman had died after being gang raped by upper caste men.
When CJI Bobde asked the KUWJ to move the Allahabad high court, Sibal said, “The high court has granted one month’s time on the habeas corpus plea of the other accused in the same case and I want to argue here.”
“In Arnab Goswami’s case, bail was pending before the lower court and still this court entertained it,” he added.
“Every case is different,” the CJI told Sibal, according to a transcript provided by Bar and Bench.
According to PTI, the CJI then added, “You show us any precedent where an association had moved the court seeking relief,” making an ostensible reference to the KUWJ. Sibal offered to implead Kappan’s wife and others in the plea.
“We want to hear the case as per the law and the matter should have been heard in the high court,” the bench said.
The hearing was also attended by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the Uttar Pradesh government and who argued that Kappan was not a party in the matter being heard.
Kappan was allowed to have a brief conversation with his lawyer over the phone on November 18, 43 days after his arrest.
Mehta also sought an adjournment for filing a rejoinder affidavit to one counter-affidavit filed by the KUWJ on claims made by the UP government on the journalist.
“Please don’t list after two weeks. This is about liberty,” Sibal pleaded with the court. However, the court rejected his request and posted the matter for hearing next week.
Notably, while granting bail to Goswami, who had been held by the Maharashtra Police over a 2018 abetment-to-suicide case, the Supreme Court had highlighted that, “we are travelling on a path of destruction of personal liberty undeniably.” And that “depriving liberty even for one day is one day too many’.
On November 16, at a hearing on the same petition, the CJI had made the controversial observation, “We are trying to discourage Article 32 petitions.” On November 20, he had said media reports on this observation had been “unfair.” Among those who had recently availed themselves of an Article 32 petition was Goswami.
In the course of the short hearing on Wedneday, Mehta also submitted that the investigation into Kappan has revealed “shocking” details.
But he was unable to provide any details beyond the unsubstantiated claims already made by Uttar Pradesh in its affidavit: that Kappan was going to Hathras “under the garb of journalism with a very determined design to create caste divide and disturb law and order situation.”
The state has alleged in its affidavit that Kappan is the office secretary of Popular Front of India (PFI) and had the identity card of a Kerela-based newspaper which was closed in 2018. Though the PFI is not a banned organisation and there is no law which makes it an offence to carry an old work ID, Mehta made an issue in court about Kappan still holding to a card from Thejas, a paper which is no longer published.
In its counter affidavit filed in the matter, the KUWJ has asked the apex court for an independent inquiry by a retired top court judge to determine the facts of Kappan’s “illegal” arrest and detention.
The KUWJ has claimed that the Uttar Pradesh Police’s ‘PFI’ claim is entirely false.
The KUWJ alleged that state had filed a misleading affidavit, misrepresenting the facts in order to justify their illegal and unlawful detention and malicious prosecution of Kappan and that there are no materials to support the allegations against him.
It has said Kappan had attempted to visit Hathras on October 5 to discharge his journalistic duties and that he had intimated his current employer prior to his trip.
In addition to the KUWJ’s allegations that Kappan has been kept in Mathura jail in sub-par conditions, he had also not been allowed to meet his counsel for the longest time.
(With PTI inputs)