On Saturday, the Supreme Court stayed the Bombay High Court’s ruling absolving former Delhi University professor G N Saibaba and five others in an alleged Maoist ties case. Following a nearly two-hour hearing in a special sitting on Saturday, a Bench comprised of Justices M.R. Shah and Bela M. Trivedi issued the ruling while issuing notice on the State of Maharashtra’s appeal.
According to the report, the offences implicated are quite serious, and the accused were convicted following a thorough examination of the evidence. Thus, if the State prevails on the merits, the offences are extremely serious against the interests of society, sovereignty, and the integrity of India.
The High Court did not rule on the merits. The accused were only freed by the High Court on the basis of sanctions being invalid.
“High Court has not considered the merits. High Court has discharged the accused only on the ground that sanction was invalid and some material which was placed before the appropriate authority and sanction was granted on the same day”, the Court noted in the order.
The Bombay High Court granted their appeals against their convictions and life sentences issued under the anti-terror law UAPA on Friday. It ruled that the trial was null and void because no legal sanction was obtained as required by Section 45 of the UAPA. The Court stated that procedural safeguards may not be surrendered on the altar of a “perceived threat to national security.”
Solicitor General, Mr. Tushar Mehta, mentioned the SLP challenging the above order before the Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli for early listing hours after the acquittal. He requested an interim stay of the Bombay High Court’s ruling orally.
Reluctant to issue a stay of execution of a discharge order, the Bench permitted him liberty to file an application for administrative decision of the CJI, Justice UU Lalit, to list the matter on Saturday at the request of the SG (today).
During the hearing, Justice Shah stated orally, “We find fault with the High Court for not entering the merits of the case and for seeking a shortcut to conclude (on the basis of penalty).” According to Section 386 CrPC, an appeal court can acquit only after overturning the trial court’s findings. (In this case, the accused was discharged solely on the basis of sanction, without any consideration of merits.)
The bench has formulated the following questions of law and posted the matter after vacation:
-Whether considering Section 465 CrPC, after the accused is convicted on merits, whether the appellate court is justified in discharging accused on the ground of irregular sanction?
-In a case where the trial court has convicted the accused on merits, whether the appellate court is justified in discharging accused on the ground of want of sanction, particularly when objection wrt no sanction was not raised specifically during the trial?
-What will be consequences of not raising the dispute with respect to sanction during the trial and thereafter permitting to trial court to proceed further despite the opportunities given to accused?
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, standing for the State, said that Saibaba did not raise the sanction issue during the trial stage, but only at the appellate stage. He said that the authorization to prosecute Saibaba arrived late. By that moment, the Investigating Officer had been questioned. An application was made to recall his testimony. However, Saibaba did not oppose at the moment. The SG then argued that Section 43C of the UAPA makes CrPC applicable. According to Section 465 CrPC, simple irregularity in sanction is not grounds for acquittal. The case of Lal Singh vs. State of Gujarat was cited, which found that the issue of sanction cannot be brought in appeal if it is not raised in trial.
The SG contended that the aim of sanction is to guarantee that a person is not subjected to a vexatious trial. However, he contended that this is not a vexatious trial. “There is no vexatious trial if someone is found guilty following a full-fledged trial.”
Senior Advocate R Basant, who represented Saibaba, stated that there was no sanction on the date of cognisance or the date of framing charge. He contended that Section 465 refers to sanction error or irregularity, not sanction absence. He claims that there is no sanction in this case. Justice Shah then asked him if this matter had been raised during the trial, to which he said that no application had been made, but it had been discussed during cross-examination.
The senior lawyer further called the Court’s attention to Saibaba’s physical impairment and urged it not to rescind the High Court’s ruling. “He is 90% impaired. Paraplegic. He has a number of other medical conditions that are legally recognised. He is restricted to his wheelchair. There is no disagreement. He asserted that there are no trained personnel in the prison to assist Saibaba in responding to nature’s calls. “Lay co-inmates are assisting him. Doctors claim it’s hurting him. For him, it is a matter of life and death.”
The SG, on the other hand, said that the High Court, in dismissing bail, noted that his application did not include any medical information and anyways, he was getting adequate medical treatment in the Prison.
Basant then claimed that the High Court had ordered Saibaba and the other defendants to sign a bond to appear before the next appeal court under Section 437A CrPC. As a result, his presence is already guaranteed, and there is no need to suspend the High Court’s decision, he argued. “We argued fully on the merits. The High Court only examines one factor (of sanction). Please consider my plight; our detention will be extended “Basant stated.
In this case, the Supreme Court responded, “We are not accusing you (Saibaba), but rather the HC for failing to consider the merits of the case. You may have argued everything, but may the accused be given the benefit of the HC’s error?”
Basant then said that the State had accused Saibaba of being the “mastermind.” However, he claimed that there is no evidence of his involvement.
Here, Justice Shah stated orally, “In terms of terrorist or Maoist actions, the brain is more harmful. Direct engagement is not required.” “I am generally observing, not with regard to this specific case,” he continued.
Basant then pointed out that Saibaba has no criminal history; he was arrested in 2015 and has been detained for more than 7 years. He was freed on bail for a limited while on medical grounds, at which time, according to Basant, he did not violate the bail conditions.
“I am only trying to point out the circumstances that why I should not be detained in custody anymore. Already the bond under 437A is there. I can even be directed to remain in my house. I am a wheelchair bound person.”
Case: State of Maharashtra v. Mahesh Kariman Tirki and Ors.