‘Mere possession of Maoist materials cannot be considered an offence'

Observing that mere possession of materials eulogising Maoist ideologies could not be considered sedition, the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to Kolkata-based businessman Piyush Guha, co-accused with rights activist Binayak Sen in the sedition case, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A vacation Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and C.K. Prasad, after hearing counsel Prashant Bhushan for the petitioner and senior counsel U.U. Lalit for the Chhattisgarh government, suspended the sentence and directed Mr. Guha's release on bail upon his executing of a bail bond for Rs. 2 lakh with two sureties of Rs.1 lakh each.

Mr. Guha was convicted along with Dr. Sen and Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court after the Chhattisgarh High Court had denied his plea. In his appeal, Mr. Guha pleaded that he be granted bail, saying that he had already spent four years in jail.

Mr. Lalit argued that there was enough evidence to show that Mr. Guha was distributing, circulating and using Maoist bulletins to incite violence. Mr. Guha, he said, could not be compared with Dr. Sen.

When Justice Singhvi asked whether there was any other material that pointed to Mr. Guha's overt involvement in the crime, Mr. Lalit said he had deep links with Sanyal. Mr. Guha, he said, had eulogised the killings of police personnel and also been cited as an accused in the Purulia arms drop case, though a charge sheet was yet to be filed.

Justice Prasad observed: “We can't go on the basis of surmises and conjectures.” When Mr. Lalit said there were materials in Mr. Guha's possession praising a “commendable job,” Justice Singhvi said “it is very difficult to give fixed meaning to these words. It is said in a different context and in a different perspective; the meaning changes from person to person.”

“No other evidence”

Justice Singhvi reminded counsel how the word “revolution” was used during the freedom struggle and said: “The court cannot convict a person unless there is evidence. Except possession of some [Maoist] materials, there is no other evidence. Some persons have an ideology that revolution is the only way to reform society. Can this be said [to be] an offence?”

Mr. Lalit argued against granting of bail, observing that communication with Sanyal was found in his possession, that the trial court had already rendered a finding of guilt and an appeal was pending in the Chhattisgarh High Court.

Justice Prasad told counsel: “A large number of materials and news comes to us. Such materials can come to this person also. Is possession of some pamphlets or letters an offence?” .