The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the Bombay High Court's order releasing former Delhi University (DU) Professor GN Saibaba and others.
Saibaba and others were in 2017 convicted on terrorism and criminal conpsiracy charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act — UAPA. They were found to have links with Maoists.
The Bombay HC had quashed the conviction of Saibaba and others on ground of a procedural lapse during the prosecution.
Here we explain who is GN Saibaba, what's he convicted for, the reasoning for bail, and the latest Supreme Court order.
Who is GN Saibaba?
GN Saibaba is a former DU professor and presently a convict lodged in Nagpur Central Jail in Maharashtra. In DU, he used to teach at the Ram Lal Anand College in the South Campus.
Saibaba was born in Andhra Pradesh's Amalapuram in 1967. He comes from an agrarian family.
Saibaba had been an activist for much of his life. The Times of India in 2013 reported he "was practically a full-time activist" with the All India People´s Resistance Forum (AIPRF) until the birth of his daughter. It further reported that he "cut his political teeth with the Radical Students' Union (RSU)" in his student days.
The AIPRF later evolved into Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF). Both RDF and RSU are believed to be fronts of banned terrorist organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist) — CPI-Maoist.
The case against GN Saibaba
GN Saibaba was convicted for criminal conspiracy, criminal activity, and for being associated with terrorist organisations in 2017 along with five others.
While Saibaba and four others were sentenced for life, a sixth convict was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
The court found that all six were members of CPI-Maoist and its frontal organisation RDF.
Saibaba and five others were convicted under IPC section dealing with criminal conspiracy and UAPA sections dealing with unlawful activity, conspiracy, punishment for being member of terrorist gang or organisation, membership of a terrorist organisation, and support to terrorist organisation, according to PTI.
"The prosecution has proved all the accused conspired together for carrying out illegal and violent activities of the banned organisation," said Principal Judge, Gadchiroli District and Sessions Court Suryakant Shinde in his verdict.
A point highlighted often regarding Saibaba is his disability. He has up to 90 per cent disability. The court did not take it into account while convicting and sentencing him. PTI reported the judge as noting that though Saibaba is physically handicapped, he is mentally fit and acted as a "think tank and high profile leader" of the CPI-Maoist and the RDF.
Bombay High Court's release of GN Saibaba
The Bombay High Court on Friday ordered the release of Saibaba on grounds of a procedural lapse during the prosecution.
The HC noted that the sanction for prosecution in the case under UAPA was "bad in law and invalid".
PTI reported that the sanction to prosecute under the UAPA was granted in 2014 against the five accused who were arrested first and against Saibaba in 2015.
The HC noted, "While the war against terror must be waged by the State with unwavering resolve, and every legitimate weapon in the armoury must be deployed in the fight against terror, a civil democratic society can ill afford sacrificing the procedural safeguards legislatively provided, and which is an integral facet of the due process of law, at the alter of perceived peril to national security.
"The Siren Song that the end justifies the means, and that the procedural safeguards are subservient to the overwhelming need to ensure that the accused is prosecuted and punished, must be muzzled by the voice of Rule of Law. Any aberration shall only be counter productive, since empirical evidence suggests that departure from the due process of law fosters an ecosystem in which terrorism burgeons and provides fodder to vested interests whose singular agenda is to propagate false narratives."
The HC ordered the release of all convicts on the bond of Rs 50,000.
During the trial too, Saibaba's defence lawyer had flagged a procedural lapse.
"The defence, Surendra Gadling said, had challenged the seizure of electronic evidence against Professor Sai Baba, because it was not sealed and nor were proper procedures followed," reported Rediff News.
The Supreme Court's suspension of Bombay HC order
The Bombay High Court on Saturday suspended the order of Bombay High Court releasing Saibaba and others.
The SC said the High Court's order did not take the merits of the case into conisderation. It sought responses from Saibaba and others by December 8.
PTI reported the Supreme Court as saying that a detailed scrutiny is required with regard to the impugned judgment since the high court did not consider the merits of the case, including the gravity of the offence alleged against the convicts.
It said, "The accused were convicted after detailed appreciation of evidence. Offences are very serious, which are against the interest of the society, sovereignty and integrity of India. The high court has not gone into all these aspects and passed the order based on sanction under UAPA."
The Supreme Court framed several questions to be decided by the apex court and noted that Saibaba never raised the issue of absence of the mandatory sanction to prosecute under UAPA during the trial stage and did so only at the appellate stage in the high court, as per PTI.
The apex court also noted that it is a settled law that an acquittal order cannot be passed by an appellate court without reversing the findings of the trial court's conviction order.
Simply speaking, the Supreme Court said that the High Court "virtually took a short-cut route in the matter", according to The Leaflet. It noted that the apex court would now consider mainly two points.
"First, it would examine whether the high court was justified in discharging the first five accused persons on the ground of alleged irregularity in sanction after conclusion of trial and conviction by the trial court. Second, with regard to Dr. Saibaba, the bench said the issue is that when a trial court has convicted him based on evidence, can the appellate court discharge him on want of sanction without adverting to the merits of the case, more so when no specific plea of want of sanction was made by the accused at the earliest point of time, that is, trial," reported The Leaflet.