SC refuses to stay Bombay HC order acquitting G.N. Saibaba, five others

An SC bench, hearing the special leave petition filed by Maharashtra, observed that the high court judgement was "very well reasoned"

File photo of Prof. G.N. Saibaba (photo: National Herald archives)
File photo of Prof. G.N. Saibaba (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Digital

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Bombay High Court order as a result of which Prof. G.N. Saibaba and five others were acquitted in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 over alleged Maoist links. The state of Maharashtra was granted leave, allowing it to appeal the judgment.

A bench of justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta, while hearing the special leave petition filed by Maharashtra, observed that the high court judgement was "very well reasoned".

The state was seeking an adjournment to file additional documents when the bench clearly stated that they were admitting the petition only because the matter had come to the SC earlier and since the SC had taken a view, they were granting leave. The bench stated that they were not even inclined to entertain the special leave petition, and refused to expedite the hearing. 

The bench pointed out that Saibaba and others were acquitted twice by two different benches of the high court. The court stated that there was now a double presumption of innocence after acquittal. It also said a stay on acquittal was unheard of, and added that just as an appellate court was slow to grant suspension of sentence once a person was convicted, it would be slow to reverse or stay the acquittal once a person was acquitted.

Appearing for Maharashtra, advocate-general S.V. Raju requested requested another date for producing additional documents, but the court refused his request for an early date.

Last week, a division bench of justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki S.A. Menezes had acquitted all six convicts because the sessions judge had framed charges against the appellants and examined the first witness without sanction.

Before that, in October 2022, another bench of the Bombay High Court, comprising justices Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare, had set aside the prior conviction, stating that the trial by the sessions court was void because there was no valid sanction under section 45(1) of the UAPA.

A sessions court had convicted the six accused in the case and cited them for having "links to Maoists", and for waging war against the state in March 2017 under sections 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA and 120-B of the IPC.

First accused Mahesh Tirki was sentenced to 10 years, while third accused and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, fourth accused Uttarakhand journalist Prashant Rahi, fifth accused Gadchiroli tribal Vijay Nan Tirki, and sixth accused Saibaba were sentenced to life. The second accused, Pandu Pora Narote, died of swine flu in August 2022.

In the recent order, the judges noted that the prosecution failed to establish legal arrest and seizure from five of the accused, and failed to establish the seizure of incriminating material from Saibaba’s residence.

“The prosecution has also failed to prove the electronic evidence in terms of the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, and the Information Technology Act. As a result, the common judgment rendered by the Trial Court is not sustainable in the eyes of law,” the judges said in their order.

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