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Bombay High Court acquits DU ex-professor G.N. Saibaba, five others in Maoist link case

Updated - March 06, 2024 12:13 am IST

Published - March 05, 2024 11:14 am IST - Mumbai

Within hours, the Maharashtra government approached the Supreme Court seeking an urgent hearing, after it failed to convince the High Court to stay the implementation of the judgment.

Prof. G.N. Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound, was arrested on May 19, 2014 while he was on his way home from Delhi University, by a joint team of the Maharashtra police, Andhra Pradesh police, and the Intelligence Bureau, in a case pertaining to ties with Maoist organisations.. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday acquitted former Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba and five others in a Maoist links case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), saying the prosecution could not prove the case against them beyond reasonable doubt.

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Within hours, the Maharashtra government approached the Supreme Court seeking an urgent hearing, after it failed to convince the High Court to stay the implementation of the judgment.

A Division Bench of Justice Vinay Joshi and Justice Valmiki S.A. Menezes also set aside the life sentence awarded to Prof. Saibaba and the other accused — Mahesh Tirki, Hem Mishra, Pandu Narote, Vijay Tirki and Prashant Rahi — by a sessions court in 2017, and held the sanction for prosecution under UAPA as “null and void”.

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A Bombay High Court led by Justice Rohit B. Deo too had acquitted Prof. Saibaba and the other five accused on October 14, 2022, only for the Supreme Court to stay the verdict and ask for the case to be heard afresh.

Maharashtra appeals

Soon after the judgement was pronounced on Tuesday, Advocate-General Birendra Saraf, on behalf of the State, requested the High Court to stay the operation of its judgment for six weeks to allow the government to approach the Supreme Court. However, the Bench refused to grant a stay. “We have already acquitted the accused and directed their release forthwith if not required in any other case. We cannot stall the said order, which may affect the right to personal liberty,” the court said.

Noting that the prosecution had failed to “establish any legal seizure or any incriminating material against the accused”, the court said, “The trial court judgment is not sustainable in the hands of law. We, therefore, allow the appeals and set aside the impugned judgment. All the accused stand acquitted.”

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The Maharashtra government subsequently filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Accused of Maoist ties

Prof. Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound, was arrested on May 19, 2014 while he was on his way home from Delhi University, by a joint team of the Maharashtra police, Andhra Pradesh police, and the Intelligence Bureau, in a case pertaining to ties with Maoist organisations. He has been lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail since his arrest in the case in 2014.

In March 2017, a sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, convicted Prof. Saibaba and five other accused for indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country. They were also held guilty of possessing Naxal literature that they planned to circulate among underground Naxalites and the residents of Gadchiroli to provoke the people to resort to violence.

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Procedural lapses

Based on the charges of Section 45(1) of the UAPA by the sessions court, Prof. Saibaba had filed an appeal in the Bombay High Court, where a Bench led by Justice Deo too had acquitted him and the other five, citing procedural lapses. “While terrorism poses an ominous threat to national security and every legitimate weapon in the armoury must be deployed against it, a civil democracy cannot sacrifice procedural safeguards afforded to the accused,” the Bench had noted.

However, the very next day, a special Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice M.R. Shah (now retired) and Justice Bela M. Trivedi suspended their acquittals, stating that the High Court did not consider “the merits of the case including the gravity of the offence”. In April 2023, it set aside the HC’s acquittal order and directed it to hear the appeal filed by Prof. Saibaba afresh.

Welcoming Tuesday’s verdict, Prof. Saibaba’s wife Vasantha Kumari said that her husband’s reputation was never at stake as people who knew him had always believed in him. “It feels like a huge relief but we don’t know what to expect right now. He was acquitted in 2022 as well, but the decision was challenged. Till the time he comes back home here, we will remain anxious,” she said in Delhi.

(With inputs from the New Delhi Bureau and the PTI)

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