Supreme Court refuses to cancel bail for Delhi riots accused
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to cancel bail for the three accused in the Delhi riots case. The Delhi High Court had on Tuesday granted bail to the accused—Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, and Students Islamic Organisation of India activist Asif Iqbal Tanha. They were released on Thursday. The SC will, however, examine the HC's interpretation of the anti-terror law.
A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian heard a plea filed by the Delhi Police challenging the bail order against the three accused. The Delhi Police—represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta—had argued, "Entire UAPA is turned on its head along with the Constitution (in the Delhi HC judgment)." The three were charged under the anti-terror law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
Justice Gupta said, "Since the issue is important and can have a pan-India ramification, we'll issue notice and hear the parties," Bar and Bench reported. The accused will, however, remain on bail and there will be no stay on the HC order to this effect.
SG Mehta argued, "With profound respect, this incident was caused when President of US was visiting and these people wanted to create a stir during that time." The Delhi HC watered down and read down the UAPA, he said. Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi also sought a stay on the order. Lekhi said the order imports ambiguity in UAPA Section 15, which defines terrorism.
The HC order suggested that offenses of ordinary kind should not be covered under UAPA as they fall in Entry 1 of List II (public order) or Entry 1 of List III (criminal law), Mehta argued, adding, "So if I kill someone in a murder attempt, and if I can be booked under 302, UAPA would not apply even if I am a terrorist?"
Justice Gupta agreed the way the UAPA has been interpreted by the HC needs to be examined. The Bench eventually stated in its order, "Issue notice. Let the counter be filed in four weeks. List in a non-miscellaneous week starting from July 19. In the meantime, this order will not be treated as a precedent by any party before any court."
The three were arrested last May for their alleged role in the February 2020 Delhi riots. They remained in detention for over a year on charges invoked under the stringent UAPA for a large conspiracy in the violence. Parts of Northeast Delhi had witnessed deadly violence where at least 53 people were killed and 200 injured during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The Delhi HC on Tuesday observed that the state had blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity in its anxiety to suppress dissent. A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani had delivered the judgment. The court observed that prima facie, no offense under Sections 15, 17, or 18 of UAPA was made out.
The Delhi Police's plea before the SC said the HC had arrived at its judgment without considering the "conspiracy" that was hatched by the accused of mass-scale Delhi riots. The HC had completely lost sight of the pieces of evidence produced before it, the plea stated, adding that it attempted to establish the case as that of a student-led protest suppressed by the government.