Court passes order on questions raised by a Division Bench

In a setback to the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh, the Allahabad High Court on Thursday ruled that the State cannot withdraw cases against terror accused without the consent of the Centre.

The SP, which depends heavily on Muslim votes, had in its 2012 election manifesto promised to release innocent Muslims implicated in terror cases.

The Lucknow Bench of Justices Devi Prasad Singh, Ajai Lamba and Ashok Pal Singh said that since most of the accused were booked under the Central Acts the State government could not withdraw the cases without the Central government’s permission.

The Bench passed the order on questions raised by a two-judge Division Bench on a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Ranjana Agnihotri and five other lawyers. The petitioners have also challenged the validity of Section 321 of the Cr.PC (provision for withdrawing the cases).

The executive power of the Centre extended to “offences under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Arms Act and the offences falling in Chapter VI of IPC or alike offences,” so it was necessary to seek the permission of the Centre before withdrawing the cases, the bench held. The Bench also said that the prosecution could not be withdrawn without assigning “specific and special reason.”

In September, the Centre said that it had no role in the State government's move as law and order was a State subject.

On June 7 while staying the State government's order to withdraw cases against people accused in the 2007 serial blasts in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow, a Division Bench had questioned whether the State government could issue an order for withdrawal of cases without there being any request from the public prosecutor.

‘State following wrong procedure’

Rihai Manch, a forum for the release of innocent youth implicated in terror cases, criticised the State for repeatedly following the “wrong procedure” in the matter. Manch president and senior advocate Mohammad Shoaib suggested that instead of withdrawing cases, the State should call for further investigation of the faulty cases, while handing out bails to those under arrest.

“It is standard procedure under the provision 321 of the CrPC for the public prosecutor to seek permission from the State and then file an application in the Court. But here the State is directly ordering the release of the accused expecting compliance. This is a wrong procedure.” he said.

Mr. Shoaib said that the State should appeal against the ruling as none of the cases warranted a permission from the Centre for their withdrawal.

The Bharatiya Janata Party welcomed the court decision terming it a “slap” on the face of the SP government, which was trying to woo its Muslim votebank.

“It is now clear that the State was using unconstitutional means to withdraw cases against terror accused,” said State BJP spokesperson Chandra Mohan. Even after repeated flaying by the Court, the State had not changed its policy on the issue, he added.