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SC says law provisions not to be debated in bail matters of activists in Delhi riots case

A bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hemant Gupta responded to Delhi police's plea to set aside bail granted to three activists and said that debates on bail orders are 'troubling'.

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New Delhi: Indicating its reluctance to consider the aspect of cancellation of bail granted to three student activists in a case of north-east Delhi riots, the Supreme Court on Thursday also termed as troubling that bail petitions are being argued at length debating the provisions of law.

A bench of Justices S K Kaul and Hemant Gupta, which was hearing the appeals filed by police against the Delhi High Court judgements granting bail to three students, asked whether the police was aggrieved by grant of bail or interpretation and observations in the verdicts.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the police, said they are aggrieved on both the issues and they would try to convince the apex court on these aspects.

Very unlikely, but you can try, the bench told Mehta, indicating its reservation to go into the aspect of cancellation of bail of the three accused who were booked under stringent anti-terror law — Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The top court observed that bail matters are argued at length before the courts despite the fact that time is limited now a days and it proposes to hear these appeals for not more than a couple of hours.

This is something which is troubling us many times. Every bail matter is argued at length before the trial courts, high courts and this court, the bench said, adding, The provisions of Act are not to be debated in a bail matter .

The bench, which posted the matter for hearing after four weeks, observed that bail matters are not in the nature of final adjudicatory proceedings and a prima facie call has to be taken whether bail is to be granted or not.

The apex court was hearing the appeals filed by Delhi Police challenging the High Court June 15 verdicts granting bail to JNU students Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita and Jamia Millia Islamia University student Asif Iqbal Tanha in the case relating to last year’s communal violence in north-east Delhi during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

At the outset, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the students, said they were seeking some time as the charge sheet runs into 20,000 pages.

We don’t have wherewithal to print 20,000 pages. Please allow us to file it in pen drive, he said.

The bench, which allowed Sibal’s request to file the pen drive on record, asked Mehta if the grievance of police is regarding grant of bail by the high court or the interpretation on law given in the matter.

Both. It will have to be argued, the solicitor general said.

The bench then asked whether the police want these students, who are out on bail, to be in custody.

Also read: Loopholes in probe, FIRs wrongly clubbed — why court fined Delhi Police in Feb 2020 riots case

We will argue, Mehta said.

The bench said that prima facie in bail matter, may be all these things need not be examined and ultimately, these are observations of the high court in context of bail only.

Your lordships observations will go a long way too, Mehta said.

The bench observed that one is the issue of bail and the other is that in a bail proceeding, lots of observations have been made.

Mehta said that this is not a political matter .

At this, Justice Kaul observed

don’t make me lose my patience. Am I precluded from asking any question? You are making us say all this. You are not letting me speak. I am trying to segregate the case,

The bench told Mehta, Please don’t presume that we are against you. We only want to segregate the issue .

Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, who also appeared for the police, said the issue is regarding applicability of section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The apex court had on June 18 expressed its displeasure over the high court discussing the entire anti-terror law UAPA in a bail matter and made it clear that the judgements shall not be treated as a precedent and may not be relied upon by any of the parties in any of the proceedings.

The top court, which had agreed to hear the appeals filed by police and issued notices to these three students, had refused to stay the high court verdicts.

The apex court had clarified in its June 18 order that release of these students on bail was not being interfered with at this stage.

While hearing the matter last month, the top court had taken note of Mehta’s submission that the entire UAPA has been “turned upside down” by the high court in granting bail in the case and observed that the issue is important and can have pan-India ramifications.

Mehta had said that 53 persons died and over 700 were injured during the riots which took place at a time when the then US president and other dignitaries were here.

The high court had said although the definition of terrorist act’ in section 15 of the UAPA is wide and somewhat vague, it must partake the essential character of terrorism and the phrase terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be applied in a cavalier manner to criminal acts that squarely fall under the Indian Penal Code.

The Delhi Police has assailed the verdict, saying the interpretation of high court would weaken the prosecution in terror cases.

The high court had on June 15 granted bail to the three student activists saying in an anxiety to suppress dissent the State has blurred the line between right to protest and terrorist activity and if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a “sad day for democracy”.

These three student activists were released from jail on June 17.

Kalita, Narwal and Tanha are accused in four, three and two cases respectively relating to communal riots that broke out on February 24 last year.

Also read: Riots changed Hindu-Muslim dynamics in NE Delhi. For some, it’s ‘hateful beyond repair’ now


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