The Supreme Court scheduled a special sitting of a Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Bela Trivedi on Saturday (October 15) to hear an urgent plea by the State of Maharashtra to stay the acquittal of Professor G.N. Saibaba and others in a case under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The State had accused the 90% physically disabled and wheelchair-bound man of having links to Maoist organisations involved in violent activities. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2017. The High Court’s acquittal came after a five-year wait.
But the Maharashtra government rushed to the Supreme Court within hours of the Bombay High Court’s decision on Friday to acquit Mr. Saibaba, ostensibly in order to prevent his actual release from Nagpur Central Jail.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an oral mentioning before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud just moments before the judges were to rise for the day a little after 4 p.m.
Oral mentionings to list a case urgently are made before the Chief Justice of India. Chief Justice U.U. Lalit had by then already risen for the day.
Mr. Mehta said Mr. Saibaba was accused of a “very, very serious offence against the nation”. He said the acquittal was on a technical ground of lack of proper sanction under the UAPA. The case was still strong on merits.
But Justice Chandrachud refused to stay the acquittal suggesting the appeal could be taken up on Monday (October 17). However, Mr. Mehta insisted that there was “nothing exceptional” in staying an acquittal. Courts do that.
Finally, Justice Chandrachud recorded Mr. Mehta’s apprehension that “in all likelihood the respondents [Saibaba and others acquitted in the case] may be released from the jail”.
The order noted a statement made by Mr. Mehta that he would move the Supreme Court Registry to obtain administrative directions from the Chief Justice of India to list the appeal on Saturday itself.
Shortly thereafter, the court published the list showing the case listed before a Bench of Justices Shah and Trivedi on Saturday.
In its judgment on Friday, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court said though “terrorism poses an ominous threat to national security... a civil democratic society can ill-afford sacrificing the procedural safeguards legislatively provided and which is an integral facet of the due process of law at the altar of perceived peril to national security”.