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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Supreme Court rejects Maharashtra govt’s appeal seeking stay on acquittal of ex-Delhi University professor G N Saibaba

There cannot be any urgency in the order of reversal of conviction. Had it been the other way around, we would have considered, says the bench

PTI New Delhi Published 11.03.24, 02:04 PM
Former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba addresses a press conference following his release from the Nagpur Central Jail after the Bombay High Court acquitted him in an alleged Maoist links case, in New Delhi.

Former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba addresses a press conference following his release from the Nagpur Central Jail after the Bombay High Court acquitted him in an alleged Maoist links case, in New Delhi. PTI picture.

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Maharashtra government application seeking a stay on the acquittal of former Delhi University professor G N Saibaba and others in the Maoist links case, and said the Bombay High Court order clearing them of the charges is "prima facie well-reasoned".

A bench of justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta, however, admitted the state government's appeal against the March 5 order of the high court.

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The bench also rejected the oral request of Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the Maharashtra government, for early listing of the appeal and said it will come up for hearing in due course of time.

"There cannot be any urgency to reverse order acquittal. Had it been the other way around, we would have considered," the bench told Raju and asked him to file for expeditious hearing at a later stage.

"Prima facie, we find that the high court order is well reasoned," the bench said, with Justice Mehta adding, "it is a hard-earned acquittal. How many years this man spent in jail?" Justice Gavai said there are two-acquittal orders by two different benches of the high court, and in the first order, the apex court had interfered.

"Normally, we would have dismissed this appeal, but since this court has earlier interfered with the acquittal order, we will have to honour that and hence we are admitting the appeal for hearing. Otherwise, this is a very well-reasoned judgement by the high court. In ordinary course, we would not have entertained this appeal. The parameters of interference with acquittal orders are very limited," the bench said.

Raju said he needs to file some documents in the matter, especially papers related to the sanction obtained for prosecuting Saibaba under anti-terror law UAPA.

The bench said, "Law is that there is always presumption of innocence, and if there is acquittal order, then the presumption of innocence is fortified." It noted that although Raju has not pressed the application for stay of the high court verdict, to avoid any confusion at a later stage, it has been rejected.

Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound, was lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail since his arrest in the case in 2014.

In March 2017, a sessions court in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district had convicted Saibaba and five others, including a journalist and a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student, for alleged Maoist links and for indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country.

The trial court had held Saibaba and others guilty under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.

On March 5, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court acquitted Saibaba, 54, and others, noting that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the case against him. The HC had also set aside Saibaba's life sentence and acquitted five other accused in the case.

It held as "null and void" the sanction procured by the prosecution to charge the accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

"The prosecution has failed to establish any legal seizure or any incriminating material against the accused," the HC had said.

Saibaba was released from Jail on Thursday, two days after his aqcuittal.

On October 14, 2022, another bench of the high court had acquitted Saibaba, noting the trial proceedings were "null and void" in the absence of a valid sanction under the UAPA.

The Maharashtra government, on the same day, approached the Supreme Court challenging the decision. The apex court initially stayed the order and later set it aside in April 2023. It directed the high court to hear his appeal afresh.

The earlier high court bench comprising Justices Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare, in its October 2022 judgement, said the sanction to prosecute the five accused under the UAPA was granted in 2014 and against Saibaba in 2015. The five had been arrested before Saibaba.

The bench had noted that in 2014, when the trial court took cognisance of the charge sheet filed by the prosecution, there was no sanction to prosecute Saibaba under the UAPA.

Justice Deo, who was due to retire in December 2025, tendered his resignation on August 4, 2023, citing personal reasons.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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