Leading human rights and constitutional lawyer Karuna Nundy applauded the Supreme Court for acting out its self-professed role as ‘sentinel on the qui vive’ and protecting personal liberty when ordering Arnab Goswami’s release on interim bail – but had some tough questions about the consistency of the court’s approach.
She noted that even though the Republic editor-in-chief had not only damaged people’s reputations by calling them terrorists and anti-nationals, and actually influenced the taking of state action against them – from Umar Khalid to the Bhima Koregaon accused – it was still a good thing that his case was heard on a priority basis by the apex court.
“However, what this must mean in a Supreme Court that must go by precedent, it must exercise its jurisdiction [in such a way] consistently,” she says. In a time when there is so much polarisation in politics and of the polity, when the state threatens the liberty of so many, consistency is key when it comes to this kind of approach by the court.
One of the best examples of why there are concerns about the consistency of the Supreme Court’s application of these lofty principles about civil liberties is the case of Bhima Koregaon accused Sudha Bharadwaj – someone who Goswami had vilified on his channel, and ironically, along with other co-accused in that case, is lodged in Taloja Jail where Goswami was being held.
As Nundy points out, on 24 September, the Supreme Court refused to entertain plea for, you guessed it, interim bail, for Bharadwaj – a lawyer and activist who gave up her US citizenship to work in India to help some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country.
When her request for interim bail came up, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice UU Lalit noted that she already had a bail plea pending in the Bombay High Court, and so told her to withdraw her interim bail request or they would dismiss it.
Arnab Goswami had also had a bail plea pending in the Alibaug sessions court when he approached the Supreme Court, but it took a vastly different approach in his case, looking into the case against him and setting him free.
Nundy says that one can appreciate that Bharadwaj’s case is one being investigated by the NIA and is under the draconian UAPA anti-terror law, while Goswami’s was an abetment of suicide case under the IPC. However, she says:
She concludes therefore by asserting that if the Supreme Court is serious about protecting the personal liberty of all citizens – and not just those with favourable access and expensive lawyers like Goswami – then it will need to look into the cases like Sudha Bharadwaj’s as well, where there is no evidence recovered from her possession, and examine the documents and apply their mind in those cases too, in the same way it did for Goswami. ( The Quint )