Supreme Court suspends Bombay HC order acquitting G.N. Saibaba and others in Maoist-links case

A request to transfer Mr. Saibaba to house arrest in order to “preserve his health” failed for now. He will continue to remain in Nagpur Central Jail.

October 15, 2022 01:07 pm | Updated 07:37 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Supreme Court, in a special hearing on Saturday, suspended a Bombay High Court decision to discharge G.N. Saibaba, a 55-year-old wheelchair-bound academic, in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged Maoist links.

A Bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Bela Trivedi remarked that generally “as far as terrorist activities are concerned, the brain plays a very important role… A brain for such activities is very dangerous”.

The oral comment was triggered when Mr. Saibaba's lawyer, senior advocate R. Basant, referred to the State’s allegation that his client was the "brain" behind the alleged Maoist activities and his fellow accused were mere “foot soldiers”. Mr. Basant said Mr. Saibaba was 90% physically disabled and had led a respectable life as a professor in the Delhi University.

A request to transfer Mr. Saibaba to house arrest in order to “preserve his health” failed for now. He will continue to remain in Nagpur Central Jail.

“These requests are coming very frequently from naxals, especially urban naxals… ‘allow me house arrest’... In UAPA offences, accused have to be kept confined. You don't need to go somewhere to stab someone, you don't need to go somewhere to shoot someone. House arrest is never an option,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Maharashtra, intervened.

Mr. Basant suggested the State could post guards outside his house, cut the telephone lines.

“My Lords, I am making a humanitarian request on medical grounds. I am willing to abide by any condition… He does not have any criminal antecedents, not even a prosecution. Besides being 90% disabled, he has multiple other ailments,” he pleaded to the court.

“Isolation in prison is the only condition for UAPA offenders,” Mr. Mehta said flatly. He noted that the Bombay High Court had rejected bail to Mr. Saibaba on medical grounds in 2020.

Mr. Saibaba has been in custody for over seven years since his arrest in May 2014. A trial court had found him guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment in 2017.

On Friday, the High Court set aside the lower court judgment and ordered the release of Mr. Saibaba and other accused persons. The High Court had found that sanction for Mr. Saibaba’s prosecution was non-existent at the time the court took cognisance of the case and even while charges were framed against him. In the case of the others, the High Court had concluded that their sanction was invalid for "non-application of mind" by the competent authority.

But the relief from the High Court proved short-lived for the disabled man. Maharashtra had rushed to the Supreme Court within hours of the High Court order on Friday. Even the case records in Marathi were translated to English overnight.

On Saturday, the Bench found, after giving "anxious thoughts" about the facts and circumstances, that the case was a "fit" one to suspend the High Court's order of discharge.

Mr. Mehta argued that the offences against Mr. Saibaba and others ordered to be released were serious and grave. They affected the sovereignty and integrity of India. They wanted to “overthrow the parliamentary form of democracy and had held meetings with naxal commanders”. He invoked Section 465 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to argue that an appellate court cannot reverse the trial court’s judgment merely on the basis of an irregularity. The trial court had appreciated the evidence against them before convicting them whereas the High Court had not even gone into the merits of the case before discharging them for lack of or invalid sanction, Mr. Mehta argued.

The court issued notice to Mr. Saibaba and his fellow accused on Maharashtra's appeal. It did not foreclose Mr. Saibaba’s chances of seeking bail under Section 437A of the CrPC (bail to appear before appellate court).

The Bench framed questions to examine whether the High Court was justified in discharging the accused on the grounds of irregular or lack of sanction when the trial court had already convicted them on the merits of the case. It asked whether the High Court’s discharge at the appellate stage was justified when the accused had made no specific objection to the irregular sanction or want of sanction throughout the trial stage.

The apex court listed the State's appeal for final disposal on December 8.

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