Some people are targeted with "greater intensity" and need more protection, the Supreme Court said on Monday after the Maharashtra government opposed the Bombay High Court order staying probe into two FIRs lodged against Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami for allegedly making inflammatory comments.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde made the observation after senior advocate, A M Singhvi, appearing for Maharashtra, questioned the high court's June 30 order and said that an impression should not get reinforced that some people are above the law.
"While nobody is above the law, some people are targeted with higher intensity. There is a culture these days that some people need a higher degree of protection," said the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L N Rao.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed by the Uddhav Thackeray government which has challenged the high court order.
The FIRs pertain to Goswami's comments during his TV programmes about Palghar lynching incident and migrants gathering in large numbers in Mumbai's Bandra area during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Goswami, said these are not genuine FIRs and one political party has lodged cases in many states.
Singhvi said the high court has stayed the FIR and suspended the probe and this should not have been done. "How can the state be asked not to investigate a criminal case," he said, adding, "Your Lordship should also see that a message does not go out that some people are above the law."
However, the bench observed, "This is purely an intellectual matter related to a verbal matter. It is not related to the recovery of some arms etc. You are entitled to investigate but you cannot harass. It can't be done the way it has been done".
The bench then asked Singhvi to spell out what the state would not do.
To this, Singhvi said there would be no arrest and summons to appear before the police would be issued 48 hours in advance to Goswami.
While opposing Maharashtra's contention that investigation should not be stopped, Salve said Goswami has been interrogated for nearly 17 hours by the police and editorial staff of the news channel have been subjected to interrogation for around 160 hours.
"Some kind of a joke is going on," he said, adding that the CEO, the CFO and the entire editorial staff of the channel have been interrogated.
"We don't support the argument that nobody should question," the bench observed.
When Salve said that a person can file a defamation case but this is not the case for registration of an FIR, the bench said, "We want some kind of assurances from you and there are some grounds where you should tread cautiously".
Salve, while saying that he would file an affidavit giving details of the cases lodged against the channel in Maharashtra, said that "communalism is a part of the political debate".
"I think we should be conciliatory in such cases," the bench observed while posting the matter for hearing after two weeks.
The bench, which did not pass any order on Maharashtra's plea for vacation of stay of the high court's order, also issued notices to Goswami and others on the appeal.
In its June 30 order, the high court had noted that while Goswami's comments targeted the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi, he did not make any statement that would cause public disharmony or incite violence between different religious groups.