The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the acquital of former Delhi University (DU) Professor GN Saibaba and others by the Bombay High Court.
Saibaba and others are in jail after being convicted for being associated with the Maoist movement. They are convicted under the sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) covering criminal conspiracy, unlawful activity, being member of terrorist organisation, and supporting a terrorist organisation.
The High Court had ordered the release of Saibaba on the basis of a procedural lapse during the prosecution and trial.
Saibaba has sought release from jail on grounds of health. He has argued that he is 90-95 per cent disable, remains wheelchair-bound, and has almost zero per cent mobility. He sought house arrest instead of imprisonment.
The SC rejected Saibaba's request to order his release and put him under house arrest after the Maharashtra government opposed the prayer, saying nowadays, there is a new tendency of "urban naxals" to seek house arrest. The Bombay High Court acquitted Saibaba and others on Friday.
The SC said, "We are of the opinion that it is a fit case for exercise of power under section 390, CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) and suspend the impugned order of the high court."
The Supreme Court stayed the release of all the accused in the case, including Saibaba, from jail, as directed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. It sought responses from Saibaba and the other accused by December 8 on a plea moved by the Maharashtra government against the high court order.
The Supreme Court said 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."
"He has a 23-year-old daughter and a wife. His bones are touching his lungs, which is further complicating the things. Looking at these aspects, please do not drag him back into jail. Please release him from jail and put him under house arrest and he will abide by any conditions which the court would impose," said Senior Advocate R Basant, appearing for Saibaba.
Opposing the prayer for house arrest, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, "Nowadays, there is a tendency of urban naxals that seek house arrest, but everything can be done from home. This house arrest cannot be an option."
Basant said the court may order for the cutting of Saibaba's phone lines.
During the hearing, Mehta said there were certain disturbing facts in the case and Saibaba was involved in various activities, including an armed separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir, waging war against the democratic setup of the country and arranging meetings of Maoist commanders.
"He was their brain and used to propagate their ideology," Mehta said.
Referring to Mehta's submission, Basant said Saibaba may have some inclination towards the Maoist ideology, but he was certainly not their brain.
The bench said, "We are not referring to this case but in general. The brain is the most dangerous thing. For terrorists or Maoists, the brain is everything."
It 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 the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) during the trial stage and did so only at the appellate stage in the high court.
The bench also agreed with Mehta's submission that the high court did not pass an acquittal order but a discharge order and no finding of the trial court was reversed.
Justice Trivedi said 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.
More than eight years after his arrest, the Bombay High Court acquitted Saibaba on Friday and ordered his release from jail, noting that the sanction order issued to prosecute the accused in the case under the stringent provisions of the UAPA was "bad in law and invalid".
It allowed Saibaba's appeal, challenging a 2017 order of the trial court that convicted him in the case and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Apart from Saibaba, the court acquitted Mahesh Kariman Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote (both farmers), Hem Keshavdatta Mishra (student) and Prashant Sanglikar (journalist), who were sentenced to life imprisonment, and Vijay Tirki (labourer), who was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Narote died during the appeal's pendency.
Saibaba, 52, who is wheelchair-bound due to a physical disability, is currently lodged in the Nagpur central prison.
Saibaba was arrested in February 2014. In March 2017, a sessions court in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district convicted him and others, including a journalist and a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student, for alleged Maoist links and indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country.
The sanction to prosecute under the UAPA was granted in 2014 against the five accused who were arrested first and against Saibaba in 2015.
(With PTI inputs)