Supreme Court sets aside Bombay High Court order acquitting Saibaba, others in alleged Maoist link [19.4.2023]

The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the order of the Bombay High Court that discharged former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and other accused in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged Maoist links.

A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar remanded the matter to the High Court for fresh consideration and directed that the case be decided within four months.

The apex court asked the Chief Justice of the High Court to place the case before another bench since the previous bench had already formed an opinion on the question of sanction being needed.

Maharashtra government had approached the top court challenging the October 14, 2022 order of the Bombay High Court which discharged Saibaba and others in an alleged Maoist links case.

On October 15, the top court in a special hearing on Saturday suspended the October 14 order of the High Court which discharged Saibaba and others.

It also stayed the release of Saibaba and others from jail. The top court had, however, said that the accused would be at liberty to move for bail.

It had said that the accused were convicted by the trial court after detailed appreciation of evidence.

"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. High Court order is based on no sanction," the top court had noted.It had opined that the High Court did not consider the case on merits but acquitted the accused due to lack of sanction from the Central government required under Section 45 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The High Court discharged the accused only on the ground that the sanction was invalid and some material which was placed before the appropriate authority and sanction was granted on the same day, it had noted.

The government had said that the failure to grant sanction cannot lead to acquittal.

Hours after the High Court acquitted Saibaba and others in the case, the Maharashtra government had approached the Supreme Court challenging the decision.

The High Court had allowed an appeal filed by Saibaba and five others challenging a 2017 decision of the trial court convicting and sentencing him to life imprisonment under the anti-terror law UAPA. They were arrested in 2014.

The High Court had ordered the immediate release of Saibaba and the other accused, including a journalist and a JNU student. It had noted that the sanction was accorded for Saibaba's prosecution only after the trial commenced. For the other accused, the High Court had noted that the sanction order issued to prosecute them in the case under the UAPA was "bad in law and invalid".

Apart from Saibaba, the High Court acquitted Mahesh Kariman Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, Hem Keshavdatta Mishra and Prashant Sanglikar, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, and Vijay Tirki who was awarded 10 years in jail. Narote died during the appeal process.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Sessions Court at Gadchiroli, Maharashtra in March 2017 for offences under various sections of UAPA and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code for alleged association with Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), which was alleged to be an affiliate of outlawed Maoist organisation.

They were convicted for indulging in activities "amounting to waging war against the country".

20 Apr 2023