Plea against activists’ bail by HC: SC asks Delhi Police what it really wants by filing it

Natasha Narwal, Asif Iqbal Tanha and Devangana Kalita outside Tihar Jail in Delhi after their release on June 17, 2021.   | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it was “very unlikely” that the Delhi Police would be able to “persuade” it to set aside the bail granted to activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha.

The three students were granted bail by the Delhi High Court after a year’s incarceration in Tihar Jail. They were accused of offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in connection with the north-east Delhi riots that broke out after the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) turned violent last year. The High Court had accused the police of blurring the line between a “terrorist act” under the UAPA and the students’ right to protest against a law.

“It is very unlikely, but you can try,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul replied to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Delhi Police. The judge was responding to Mr. Mehta’s submission that he would “persuade” the court to set aside the High Court order.

The court asked the Delhi Police what it really wanted by filing this appeal against the bail order of the High Court. “What do you really want? You want to again take them into custody?” Justice Kaul asked Mr. Mehta.

Repeated interruption

The Bench, also comprising Justice Hemant Gupta, chastised the Delhi Police lawyers for repeatedly interrupting Justice Kaul. At one point, the court, annoyed by the interruptions from the police side, referred to the case as a “political matter”.

“Do not make me lose my patience in the middle of the day. Please listen to our questions… Do not presume we are going to say something against you,” Justice Kaul addressed Mr. Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi.

Mr. Mehta apologised to the court. He said the appeal was filed strictly on law and there was nothing “political” about it. Mr. Lekhi said the High Court order was “ex facie wrong”.

However, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for the activists, said the police had filed a 20,000-page charge sheet against his clients in the trial court.

“I really do not have the wherewithal to print 20,000 pages… I need more time and please do allow me to place on record a pen-drive with the contents of the charge sheet,” Mr. Sibal said.

The court scheduled the case after four weeks.

‘No lenghty arguments’

Justice Kaul told the Delhi Police that it did not intend to hear long drawn-out arguments spanning over two hours or more in the next hearing on the legal merits and facts of the case in an appeal against a bail order.

The court said the police appeal highlighted two points; one, the setting aside of the bail order itself; and the other, the observations made by the High Court in its order. The High Court had made stinging remarks about the casual use of the UAPA by the police.

Mr. Mehta had argued that the “entire UAPA was turned on its head along with the Constitution”. He said 53 people died and 700 injured in the riots. “The right to protest does not mean the right to kill and hurl bombs,” he submitted.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 5:22:40 AM |

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