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How U.P. police tried to keep Azam Khan in jail till the last minute

Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan is greeted by supporters after his release from jail in Sitapur on May 20, 2022.

Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan is greeted by supporters after his release from jail in Sitapur on May 20, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Uttar Pradesh police's efforts to keep Samajwadi Party stalwart Mohd Azam Khan in custody were interrupted as the SP leader walked out of the Sitapur Jail on Friday after more than two years in custody.

While invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India to grant him the relief, the Supreme Court had outlined the circumstances under which Khan was implicated in the 88th FIR against him.

To begin with, the court noted that even though this FIR was registered in March 2020 and a charge sheet filed, the U.P. police did not consider implicating Khan in the said case until the Supreme Court started hearing his case this year.

Moreover, the court also noted that while opposing interim bail to Khan in this case, the police had alleged that he had threatened the investigating officer of the case. However, it also pointed out the “sheer coincidence” in the timing of this threat, which was registered by the police as a General Diary entry at 3:04 a.m. on May 17, only hours before the top court was to hear the matter.

Noting that Khan was implicated in this case 1 year and 7 months after a charge sheet had been filed, the court said, “It is not as if that the allegations which are now sought to be made against the petitioner (Khan) could not have been made at that point of time.”

When Khan had approached the Supreme Court earlier this year, there were 87 criminal cases pending against him, of which he had secured bail in 84. As the top court started hearing his plea regarding the delay in bail being granted in the remaining three cases, he was further granted bail in two of them, leaving just one more case for him to get relief in as of the beginning of May.

It was at this point that the U.P. police acted to implicate Khan in the 88th case, where he was not an accused or suspect till May 5, when the police first requested to summon him in the case. As the Supreme Court was told on May 6 that the Allahabad High Court would soon deliver its judgement in the last remaining case, the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Rampur) on the same day passed an order remanding Khan in custody in the 88th case.

While hearing Khan's case last week, the Supreme Court had also noted a pattern in the police action against him, orally pointing out that the 9-time SP MLA was being arrested in a fresh case every time he was granted bail in a previous one to prolong his incarceration.

Khan, once among the most powerful ministers in the SP-led U.P. government, faced a barrage of FIRs soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2017, the first of which came on allegations of forging his son's birth documents. The bulk of the FIRs (81 out of a total 88) then came in 2019, immediately before and after the Lok Sabha elections that year, all in quick succession.

As per the most recent election filing in 2022, charges have been framed against Khan in just 14 of the 88 cases.

Therefore, considering that he had been granted bail in 87 cases and the circumstances under which he was implicated in the 88th case, the Supreme Court invoked its power under Article 142 for the second time in two days to grant interim bail to him.

The top court had just a day before invoked the same powers to free Rajiv Gandhi-assassination convict A.G. Perarivalan.

Article 142 gives the Supreme Court sweeping powers to pass any such orders or decrees as it may deem fit in the interest of ensuring that "complete justice" is done in any cause or matter pending before it.

These powers are rarely invoked by the court and it has done so notably in its Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi land dispute judgement in 2019, in 1989 while asking Union Carbide to pay $470 million in compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims, and in 2016 while banning the sale of liquor within 500 metres of state and national highways in a bid to curb driving accidents.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 4:00:54 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/how-up-police-tried-to-keep-azam-khan-in-jail-till-the-last-minute/article65439697.ece