SC suspends Bombay HC order acquitting Saibaba, others in Maoist-links case, convicts to remain in jail
The Supreme Court bench also rejected the request of the accused to be placed under house arrest, given his medical condition
The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the Bombay High Court order discharging former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and five others in a case where they were accused of having alleged links with Maoists. Saibaba had been acquitted by the High Court on Friday. The bench also rejected the request of the accused to be placed under house arrest, given his medical condition.
A bench of justices MR Shah and Bela M Trivedi was hearing a petition filed by the Maharashtra government challenging the acquittal. “We are of the firm opinion that the impugned judgment of the High Court is required to be suspended...It is not in dispute that even considering Section 319 CrPC and the decision of this court in the case of 1976(3) SCC 1 the appellate court in an appeal against acquittal, can suspend the order of acquittal/discharge. Therefore, this court can suspend the HC order," the bench observed in its order.
While pronouncing the order, the court said: “High Court has not considered the merits. The HC discharged the accused only on the ground that the sanction was invalid and some material which was placed before the appropriate authority and sanction was granted on the same day.”
The bench observed that the offences involved were serious in nature and the accused were convicted after detailed appreciation of evidence. The offences are very serious against the interest of the society, sovereignty and integrity of India.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the State submitted that Saibaba did not raise the issue of sanction at trial stage and was raised only at appellate stage. He also pointed out Section 43C of UAPA makes CrPC applicable.
Senior Advocate R Basant appearing for Saibaba submitted that on the date of framing charges, there was no sanction. He argued that Section 465 talks about error or irregularity of sanction, not absence of sanction. He pleaded the Court's conscience by drawing attention to Saibaba's physical disability and urged the Court to not suspend the High Court's order.
Basant submitted that the High Court had demanded Saibaba to execute a bond to appear before next appellate Court under Section 437A CrPC. As a result, his presence was already assured, so there was no need to suspend the High Court's order, he submitted.
“So High Court committing a mistake by not considering this and taking a shortcut.. can the benefit of that be available to the accused? We are only finding fault with the High court here," the bench said.
“We have argued on full on merits. High Court only considers one aspect (of sanction). Kindly see my plight, our incarceration will be prolonged,” said Basant.
The Court observed that the issue raised certain important questions of law and proceeded to issue notice to GN Saibaba while framing the following questions of law for consideration:
1. Whether considering Section 465 CrPC after conclusion of trial and accused is convicted on merits, can appellate court discharge the accused on ground of irregular sanction?
2. In a case where trial court has convicted accused on basis of material and appreciation of evidence, is appellate court justified in discharging accused on ground of want of sanction.... since no ground of sanction was raised during trial?
3. What will be the consequences of not raising the issue with respect to sanction before trial court even though opportunity given under section 313 CrPC.
History of the case
On Friday, the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court had said that 55-year-old Saibaba, who has 90 per cent physical disability and was serving a life sentence, should be released immediately unless his custody was required in any other case. Following this, Saibaba’s lawyers had said he might be released on Saturday from Nagpur central jail, where he has been lodged since his arrest in 2014.
But the Maharashtra government rushed to the Supreme Court within hours of the decision to acquit Saibaba in order to prevent his release from jail. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an oral mentioning before a Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud just before the judges were to rise for the day a little after 4 pm. As per protocol, oral mentionings to list a case urgently are made before the Chief Justice of India, however Chief Justice UU Lalit had already risen for the day.
Justice Chandrachud refused to stay the acquittal suggesting the appeal could be taken up on Monday (October 17) as Saturday are holidays for courts. However, at Mehta insistence the Court specified that the State government could move an application seeking an earlier hearing on Saturday. Subsequently, the matter was listed for Saturday after administrative orders from the CJI.
In March 2017, a sessions court in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district convicted Mr Saibaba and others, including a journalist and a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student, of alleged Maoist links and for indulging in activities “ amounting to waging war against the country”.
Saibaba was a Delhi resident at the time of his arrest. Co-accused Mahesh Tirki, 27, and Pandu Pora Narote — who died aged 32 while the hearing of his appeal was pending — were farmers from Gadchiroli district.
Hem Mishra, 37, was a student of JNU who hailed from Almora district of Uttarakhand. Prashant Rahi Narayan Sanglikar, 59, was a journalist from Dehradun and Vijay Tirki, 35, a labourer from Chhattisgarh. Tirki alone had been granted bail.