2020 Delhi riots | Supreme Court dismisses Delhi Police appeal against bail to activists

They were accused of offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in connection with the North-East Delhi riots, which broke out after the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act had turned violent 

Updated - May 03, 2023 12:48 am IST

Published - May 02, 2023 02:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Student activists (from left) Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal outside Tihar prison in New Delhi on June 17, 2021, after a court ordered their immediate release in the Delhi riots “conspiracy” case.

Student activists (from left) Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal outside Tihar prison in New Delhi on June 17, 2021, after a court ordered their immediate release in the Delhi riots “conspiracy” case. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on May 2 dismissed an appeal by the Delhi Police against the release of activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha on bail in a case connected to the 2020 Delhi riots. 

A Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that the activists have been out on bail for two years now. The Delhi High Court had allowed them bail in June 2021 after a year’s incarceration in Tihar Jail. They were accused of offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA in connection with the North-East Delhi riots, which broke out after the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) had turned violent.  

Also Read: 2020 Delhi riots: police asked to take ‘remedial action’ on unverified video

The High Court had made scathing remarks in its judgment against the police, accusing it of blurring the line between “terrorist act” under the UAPA and the students’ right to protest a law.  

On May 2, the apex court recorded that neither the observations made by the High Court on the UAPA law nor any elaborate discussion on the merits of the case would act as a precedent.  

“The impugned judgment is an extremely elaborate one interpreting provisions of UAPA. In our view the only issue to be examined if in the factual scenario accused is to be granted bail or not,” the apex court noted.  

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the police, said the comments made by the High Court had the effect of even diluting the UAPA.  

Justice Kaul criticised the tendency among State and defence lawyers to argue bail pleas like they were fighting for conviction or a full-fledged appeal.  

“A bail hearing should be limited. But both sides argue elaborately on merits and the law. In such a scenario, the court has no option but to address the arguments in its judgment. The fault is with the lawyers on both sides,” Justice Kaul observed.  

At the beginning of the hearing, a young counsel had sought an adjournment citing the unavailability of an Additional Solicitor General assigned to represent the Delhi Police.  

However, the Bench said the case has already been adjourned eight times in the past, and it had no intention of postponing the hearing anymore. Mr. Mehta joined the hearing online a few minutes later as the court was halfway through dictating the order.  

In an earlier hearing, Mr. Mehta had argued that the Delhi High Court judgment had the effect of turning the “entire UAPA on its head”.  

He had argued that 53 people died and 700 were injured in the riots.  

“The right to protest does not mean the right to kill and hurl bombs,” he had submitted.  

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