The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the Bombay High Court order acquitting former Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba in a case for his links with Maoists, along with 5 others. The apex court also stayed the release of the convicted persons.
The High Court had acquitted the urban Naxals on a technicality, overlooking the merits of the case considered in detail by the trial court. The HC had said that the prosecution had not obtained sanction from the central govt to prosecute GN Saibaba under UAPA. Further, while the required sanction was obtained to prosecute the other 5 under UAPA, the High Court declared the sanction invalid. Maharashtra government had moved the Supreme Court contending that failure to grant sanction cannot lead to acquittal in view of Section 465 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Bench : For reasons stated above the impugned judgment and order of HC is suspended till further orders. Counter if any to be filed on behalf of A6 within a period of 4 weeks. Counter if any on behalf of other accused to be filed within 4 weeks of receipt of notice.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) October 15, 2022
Immediately after the Bombay High Court had delivered the judgement, the Maharashtra government had approached the Supreme Court challenging it, and the apex court agreed for a special sitting to hear the case. A bench of justices MR Shah & Bela Trivedi heard the case, and ruled that the High Court took a wrong approach.
Representing the Maharashtra government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the High Court erred in by not going into the merit of the case when the trial had been concluded and the accused had been convicted, but declared the entire trial null and void just because sanction from the govt was not taken. Mehta also said that while sanction was taken obtained for GN Saibaba, for the other 5 the sanction was granted.
The court also noted that the accused had not raised the matter of sanction specifically during the trial, and the trial court had noted this aspect in the judgement. Justice Shah said that while the court didn’t find fault with the accused, they find fault with the Bombay High Court for not considering the merits of the case at all.
The Supreme Court said that GN Saibaba has not been acquitted on merits, he has only been discharged. The bench said that they find it fit case to suspend the impugned judgment and order of the High Court. Giving reasoning for the order, the bench said that the accused were convicted after detailed appreciation of evidence. Further, the offences are very serious, and if the state succeeds on merits, offences are very serious against the interest of the society, sovereignty and integrity of India.
The Supreme Court said that the High Court has not considered the merits, and the court discharged the accused only on the ground that the sanction was invalid for the other 5 and sanction was not obtained for Saibaba. With this order, the Supreme Court stayed the release of Saibaba and the 4 others as ordered by the High Court.
The others convicted in the case were Mahesh Kariman Tirki (22), late Pandu Pora Narote (27), Hem Keshavdatta Mishra (32), Prashant Rahi Narayan Sanglikar (54) and Vijay Nan Tirki (3). GN Saibaba was arrested later, and their trials were clubbed with his trial. Pandu Pora Naroted died during the trial.
The apex court also rejected Saibaba’s appeal to keep him under house arrest and not in jail due to his medical condition. The bench said that this request cannot be accepted at this stage when the accused was already convicted by trial court. The solicitor general had opposed this request, saying that even from home he can communicate with Maoists and keep running antinational agenda. “There is a recent tendency from urban naxals to seek house arrests. But everything can be done from within the home for them. even by phone. Please say that house arrest can never be an option,” Tushar Mehta said.
Commenting on Saibaba’s health condition, the court noted that earlier he had applied for bail on health grounds and the same was rejected. However, the court said that the convicts have the liberty to appeal for bail.