New Delhi: Acquitting two tribals in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sedition cases over alleged Naxal links, a sessions court in Mangaluru Thursday said that possessing a book on Bhagat Singh or newspaper cuttings is not barred under the law and would not prove any link of the accused with any banned organisation.
The court’s remarks came in a verdict in a 2012 case against a father-son duo who the police claimed harboured members belonging to the banned Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)–People’s War.
The police’s case depended on the articles seized from the house of the two accused — a journalism student, Vittala Malekudiya, and his father, Lingappa Malekudiya. The materials included some household articles, newspapers, a book of Bhagat Singh and a letter written by the student during the 2012 by-election for Udupi Chikmagalur parliamentary constituency, requesting the authorities to fulfil the demands of the tribals in the area or face boycott of the elections.
Asserting that none of these materials were incriminating, additional district and sessions judge B.B. Jakati observed, “The book of Bhagath Singh has been seized possessing book of Bhagath Singh is not barred under law. The paper cuttings of newspaper have been seized by the I.O. The reading of such newspapers is not barred under law.”
Noting that the police had also cited newspaper articles that were found at the house of the accused as incriminating evidence, the court further observed, “The accused No.6 and 7 have not published such articles found in the paper. Therefore, even if there is any instigative publication in the newspaper, the accused No.6 and 7 are not answerable for such publication. Mere possession of paper cuttings of newspaper does not amount any offence.”
Scrutinising the list of seized articles, the court said “they are the articles which are required for day to day livelihood”.
As for the son’s letter, the court observed, “On reading of such letters it can be easily stated that such letters contain the demand of local people from the state. From such writings one cannot find out that the accused No.6 and 7 are engaged in Naxal activities or they were concealing or harbouring the accused No.1 to 5.”
It, therefore, acquitted the duo.
The 2012 case
The case before the court had a total of seven accused. The prosecution had said that five accused — Vikra Gowda, Pradeepa, John, Prabha and Sundari — were all members of the banned Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)–People’s War. It had alleged that these five had entered into a criminal conspiracy with the two other accused — father and son, Lingappa and Vittala — to “wage war against sovereignty of India”.
Lingappa and Vittala, the prosecution said, harboured the other five in a tribal area, Kuthlooru village in Karnataka, where they were allegedly instigating the tribals to participate in Naxal activities.
The FIR in the case was filed on 3 March 2012, on the basis of 26 materials that were seized from the Malekudiya house, and the duo was arrested the same day. At the time, Vittala was studying journalism at Mangaluru University. His hostel was also searched and certain articles were seized.
Since the first five accused were allegedly absconding, the trial was split, and the judgment pertained only to the Malekudiyas. The duo was being tried under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code, along with Sections 19 (harbouring or concealing terrorists) and 20 (being a member of a terrorist gang or organisation) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.
‘No proof of involvement in Naxal activity’
The prosecution had also allegedly seized three mobile phones from the accused, but the court noted that the call data records of these mobiles had not been produced. In the absence of any incriminating material stored in the mobiles or any data showing calls between the accused, the court said that this would not help the case of the prosecution.
The court also pointed out the lack of any independent witness statement to prove that the accused were in fact involved in Naxalite activities, observing, “If really the accused No.6 and 7 were involved in Naxalite activity, at least one of the villagers would have spoken such fact. None of the villagers spoken such fact, so, there is absolutely no evidence to prove that the accused No.6 and 7 were the members of Naxalite group and they were concealing the accused No.1 to 5 or assisting them in Naxalite activities in Forest area of Kuthloor Village.”
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)