Delhi riots: Umar Khalid’s bail plea adjourned to 24 January

The Supreme Court has postponed former JNU student leader Umar Khalid's bail plea citing unavailability of senior counsels. The case has been adjourned 10 times since reaching the SC

Khalid was arrested in September 2020 for his alleged involvement in the Delhi riots, as an alleged “key conspirator” (photo: National Herald archives)
Khalid was arrested in September 2020 for his alleged involvement in the Delhi riots, as an alleged “key conspirator” (photo: National Herald archives)

Ashlin Mathew

The Supreme Court, on Wednesday adjourned the hearing of the bail plea of former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Umar Khalid incarcerated in the Delhi riots conspiracy case — after both Khalid’s counsel and Delhi Police stated that senior counsel were not available — to 24 January.

The bench comprising justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal were initially reluctant to adjourn the case, but did so after much urging by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is appearing for Khalid.

Sibal requested for an adjournment as he has a hearing in front of a Constitutional bench today and Delhi Police also sought time as additional solicitor-general S.V. Raju was unavailable. When Sibal mentioned the matter in the morning, Justice Trivedi shot down the adjournment request immediately, stating that they would not grant "any adjournment’.

“We will not grant any time," she insisted, even when Sibal pointed out that Delhi Police and the Union government wanted an adjournment.

It was underscored that Sibal had to appear before the Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud in the case of Aligarh Muslim University’s minority status. On repeated requests, Justice Mithal said, “The impression being created is that the Court is not hearing the matter.”

Senior advocates Arvind Datar and Huzefa Ahmadi, who are also appearing in related petitions challenging the validity of certain provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967, too requested for an adjournment.

After several of the advocates urged the bench repeatedly, the judges agreed to post the matter on 24 January, stating that no further adjournment would be granted. The bench recorded that both the petitioner and the Union government had requested postponement of the case.

Khalid’s bail petition has now been adjourned on 10 occasions since the case appeared in the Supreme Court.

He was arrested on 13 September 2020 under the UAPA for his alleged involvement in the riots in north-east Delhi in February 2020, and has been accused of being one of the “key conspirators” in the riots. Khalid had filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court challenging Delhi High Court's decision to deny him bail in 2022.

The Delhi Police FIR against Khalid includes charges under sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA, sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act, and sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984.

The bench will also consider a set of writ petitions that challenge the Constitutional validity of certain provisions of the UAPA, along with Khalid's bail petition.

The hearing in the case was issued on 18 May 2023, and when it came up on 12 July, Delhi Police sought time to file additional details. On 24 July, Khalid’s lawyers sought adjournment. Then, on 9 August, Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra recused from the case and it was adjourned to 17 August.

On 17 August, Khalid’s bail plea was dropped from the SC cause list as it had been listed before a bench of justices AS Bopanna and Mishra.

On 5 September, the bail plea was put before a division bench comprising justices Trivedi and Dipankar Datta. It had to be adjourned as Sibal was unavailable since he was arguing the abrogation of Article 370 before the CJI.

It was then listed on 12 September before a bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Trivedi, who said the case would have to be heard and decided by going through the documentary evidence. During this hearing, Sibal had said several provisions of the UAPA, including those concerning terrorism, raising funds for terrorist acts, and conspiracy, did not apply in the case. The bench adjourned the case to 12 October.

On 12 October, justices Bose and Trivedi adjourned the case citing “paucity of time”, though Sibal said he could argue it. It was moved to 1 November. But on 31 October, Bose and Trivedi tagged Khalid’s bail petition with other matters challenging the Constitutionality of certain provisions in the UAPA. The next hearing was scheduled for 22 November, but the case came up on 29 November, when it was adjourned to January 2024 as both Sibal and ASG Raju were unavailable.

Justice Trivedi was one of the judges on the bench along with Justice M.R. Shah which suspended the Bombay High Court order discharging wheelchair-bound former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba in a case under UAPA for alleged Maoist links.

What led to Umar’s arrest?

The trial court pointed out that the call to revolution in Khalid's February 2020 Amravati speech may have affected many beyond those who were visibly present. The prosecution had used the speech to underline that Khalid had called for a 'revolution'.

"This court is of the view that possibly, if the appellant had referred to Maximilien Robespierre for what he meant by revolution, he must have also known what revolution meant for our freedom fighter and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He believed that democracy has made revolution superfluous after independence and how it meant the complete opposite of a bloodless change," the high court had said, deciding to consider it as an incitement to violence.

Delhi High Court had denied Khalid bail on 18 October 2022 in the case. The division bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar had then dismissed Khalid’s appeal challenging the trial court order denying him bail in March 2023, observing that Khalid had participated in various meetings at Jantar Mantar, Jangpura, Shaheen Bagh, Seelampur, Jaffarabad and the Indian Social Institute on various dates and his name is mentioned from the 'beginning of the conspiracy' until the riots.

The judges had claimed that the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) were heading toward the riots because “several conspiratorial meetings” were organised and Khalid had attended a few of them.

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