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Supreme Court: Transfer of Investigation to CBI Not A Routine Matter, To Be Used Only In Exceptional Situations

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On 19.05.2020, a Division Bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice M.R Shah in the case of Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India and Ors held that multiple FIRs based on the same cause of action are not maintainable. 

Brief facts of the case

The petitioner is the Editor-in-Chief of an English television news channel, Republic TV. He is also the MD of ARGOM Asianet News Private Limited which owns and operates a Hindi television news channel, R Bharat. The petitioner anchors news shows on both channels.

On 16 April 2020, a broadcast took place on Republic TV. This followed a broadcast on R Bharat on 21 April 2020. It was in in relation to an incident which took place in Gadchinchle village of Palghar district in Maharashtra. Three persons including two sadhus killed by a mob, allegedly in the presence of the police and forest guard personnel.

These broadcasts led to the lodging of First Information Reports (FIR). In the State of Maharashtra, an FIR was lodged at Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City. Apart from this, 14 other FIR were filed in different parts of the country.

Another incident took place. Two persons obstructed the Petitioner and his spouse. They were subject to assault, while returning home from the studio. 

He filed an FIR on 23.04.2020. The apex court passed an interim order on 24.04.2020. This followed filing of several interim applications and writ petitions.

Petitioner’s Arguments

On behalf of the petitioner, Mr Harish Salve, submitted that Article 32 raises “wider issues”. This implicates to the freedom of speech and expression of a journalist to air views which fall within the protective ambit of Article 19(1)(a).

Respondent’s Arguments

Mr Kapil Sibal, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the State of Maharashtra has opposed the petitions filed. The first FIR is against the petitioner. So, he has no locus to question the line of investigation or nature of the interrogation. Also, rights of the petitioner under Article 19(1)(a) are subject to the limitation under Article 19(2).

Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appeared on behalf of the investigating agency of the Maharashtra police. He mentioned that the transfer of an ongoing investigation to the CBI is held to be an extraordinary power. Further, it must be only be sparingly exercised.

Court’s View

The Court observed that in the case of TT Antony v State of Kerala, it was held that “there can be no second FIR” where the information concerns the same offence alleged in first FIR. A fresh investigation or a second FIR, based on the same/connected offence would constitute abuse of the statutory power of investigation. An exception to this is filing of a counter case.

In the present case, all the FIRs or complaints lodged in diverse jurisdictions arise out of one and the same incident. This being the broadcast by the petitioner on 21 April 2020 on R Bharat. The petitioner, in the exercise of his right under Article 19(1)(a), is not immune from an investigation into the FIR. This has been transferred from Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City to NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai.

The petitioner sought, for reasons outlined earlier, the transfer of the investigation to CBI. The Bench emphasized that the transfer of this FIR from the Nagpur to Mumbai was with the consent of the petitioner. Also this transfer was on his request and now seeks to question that very investigation by the Mumbai police.

The Bench stated, “The precedents of this Court emphasise that this is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and in exceptional circumstances”. The Bench referred to the Constitution Bench decision in State of West Bengal v Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal. It held that mere allegations against the police do not constitute a sufficient basis to transfer the investigation. It emphasized that the line of interrogation cannot be controlled or dictated by the persons under investigation/interrogation.

This Court also, adopted the position that Courts must refrain from passing comments on an ongoing investigation to extend to the investigating agencies the requisite liberty and protection in conducting a fair, transparent and just investigation.

In view of the clear legal position, the Court stated that the FIR which is under investigation in Mumbai does not and cannot cover any alleged act of criminal defamation. 

Supreme Court’s Decision

The Bench stated that the FIR transferred from the Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City to NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai shall be investigated by the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai. It added that all other successive FIRs/complaints founded on the same cause of action are set aside. The petitioner would be at liberty to pursue remedies available in law under the CrPC. This should be before the competent forum, according to the Court.

Quoting the view laid down by the Apex Court in Subramanian Swamy v Union of India, Ministry of Law, the above FIR does not cover the offence of criminal defamation under Section 499 of the IPC.

The Bench rejected the prayer for transfer of the investigation to the CBI. It stated that that an accused person does not have a choice concerning the mode or manner in which the investigation be carried out. This is even with regard to the investigating agency. is now on Telegram. Follow us for regular legal updates and judgements from the court. Follow us on Google News, InstagramLinkedInFacebook & Twitter. You can also subscribe for our Weekly Email Updates. You can also contribute stories like this and help us spread awareness for a better society. Submit Your Post Now.

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