A Mumbai court on Thursday granted bail to a television journalist arrested for allegedly 'spreading misinformation' with his report that the government was thinking of starting Jan Sadharan train services for migrants, which allegedly led to a crowd gathering in Bandra.
Rahul Kulkarni, journalist with a Marathi news channel, was arrested by Mumbai Police on Wednesday, a day after several migrant workers gathered near Bandra station in Mumbai demanding that they be sent back to their home towns.
Kulkarni was produced before a magistrate in Bandra on Thursday where the police sought his custody.
The court, however, refused the police's plea and remanded Kulkarni in judicial custody, following which his advocate Subodh Desai immediately filed a bail application.
After hearing brief arguments, the court granted him bail on a surety of Rs 15,000.
10 others arrested in the case were remanded in police custody till April 19.
The police booked Kulkarni under Indian Penal Code Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 505(b) (intent to cause fear or alarm among public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against public tranquility), and provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act.
According to police, Kulkarni allegedly gave a 'false' story, saying the Railways was going to start special trains to ferry migrant workers stranded in Maharashtra back to their native states.
The police said hundreds of migrant workers gathered at the Bandra station on Tuesday after watching the news, and they were later dispersed.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut hailed court's decision to grant bail to Kulkarni.
He said the arrest of the journalist in connection with the gathering of migrants in Bandra was unfortunate.
Talking to a news channel, Raut said the government and media were both important pillars of democracy.
"Both sides should be alert that such an incident should not happen again. I am happy journalist Rahul Kulkarni got bail. The police should find out truth into the charges on which he was arrested," the Rajya Sabha member said.
Raut, who is the executive editor of Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, said he was speaking as a journalist and not Sena leader.
He said the 'Railways was also responsible for the problem'.
NBA slams action as assault on free press
The News Broadcasters Association, meanwhile, described the arrest of Kulkarni as a 'frontal assault' on the freedom of press and urged Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to get the charges against the scribe dropped.
In a letter to Thackeray, NBA chief Rajat Sharma expressed shock and anguish over the 'unreasonable arrest' of journalist Rahul Kulkarni, who works with a Marathi news channel.
Sharma, in his letter to the chief minister, said the first information report is based upon some reports which purported to draw the connection between the gathering at Mumbai Bandra West station and a news story by him.
'The said senior Journalist is a person with impeccable record and known for his upright journalism and would always have made himself available to the investigating agency/agencies for any purpose and thus there is no question of him fleeing from or evading the investigating agency which necessitated an arrest in the current pandemic situation exposing him to the risk of contracting the virus,' the NBA chief said.
NBA condemns the act of 'unreasonable arrest' and it is a 'serious infringement on the right of freedom of speech and a frontal assault on the free press', the letter said.
'The fundamental right of freedom of speech is sought to be gagged and any further custody and incarceration of him would be a serious infraction of the constitutional mandate and would also threaten his life,' Sharma said.
The NBA has constituted an adjudicatory body -- News Broadcasting Standards Authority -- which is an independent body headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Arjun Sikri, he said.
Its task is to consider and adjudicate upon complaints about broadcasts, he said.
The NBA is empowered to pass various orders and can warn, admonish, censure, express disapproval against and/or impose a fine upon the broadcaster and/or recommend to the concerned authority for suspension or revocation of license of such a broadcaster, Sharma pointed out.
'It would be therefore in the larger interest of press freedom that a journalist and reporter of the standing of Rahul Kulkarni is freed from all charges so that the sanctity of the press freedom is restored,' he said.
'Any complaints with respect to the said or any content may kindly be made to the NBSA. We assure you that justice would be done and in case of any violation appropriate orders would be passed in accordance with the NBSA regulations,' he said in the letter, requesting the chief minister to intervene in the matter.