The Supreme Court on Friday (June 18) refused to interfere with a Delhi High Court order which granted bail to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha. The three are accused of instigating Delhi riots of 2020 and charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the controversial anti-terror Act.
The two-member bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian also stated that it will examine the manner in which the HC interpreted the UAPA since the case could have “pan-India ramifications”. The apex court also said that the HC order will not be treated as a precedent and shall not be relied upon by anyone before any court.
The Supreme Court also made it clear that it is not interfering with the bail granted to the student-activists “at this stage”.
The Delhi Police told the apex court that the Delhi High Court verdict granting bail to three student activists have turned the anti-terror law UAPA upside down and its findings ‘virtually record’ acquittal for the accused,.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the police, told the SC bench that 53 people had died and over 700 were injured during the riots which took place when the then US president and other dignitaries from the US were here.
Mehta said if these verdicts (given by HC) are applied, then a person who plants a bomb which ultimately gets defused would also escape the clutches of law.
“I can venture to say that entire UAPA has been turned upside down on its head along with the Constitution,” Mehta told the bench at the outset.
“The issue is important and can have pan-India ramifications. We would like to issue notice and hear the other side,” the bench said.
Mehta, while seeking stay on the high court verdicts, said the findings virtually record acquittal for these accused. Others are already moving for bail relying on this, he said, adding that issues of what constitutes a terrorist activity and legislative competence were not argued before the high court.
“From when does the right to protest include the right to kill people and hurl bombs,” Mehta argued, adding that several people were killed but the high court says that eventually riots were controlled and thus Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) would not apply.
“Meaning thereby if a person plants a bomb and the bomb disposal squad defuses it, then it reduces the intensity of the offence?,” he said. “They are out on bail, let them remain out but please stay the judgements,” Mehta said, adding, “Stay by the Supreme Court has its own meaning.”
“The apex court said these verdicts would not be used as precedent by courts in the country. While reading down some paragraphs from the high court verdicts regarding right to protest, Mehta said, “If we go by this judgement, even the lady who assassinated the former Prime Minister was also protesting.”
Mehta argued that the High Court has noted in the verdicts about the intent and purpose of introducing UAPA and has said that it was to be applied to offence limited only to defence of India as provided in Entry 1 of Union List of the Constitution.
“There are many questions which arises as legality of the UAPA was not challenged before the High Court. These were bail applications,” the bench said, adding it was issuing notice on the appeals filed by the police challenging the high court verdicts.
The apex court agreed to hear the appeals filed by the police challenging the verdicts of the high court and issued notices to Narwal, Kalita and Tanha seeking their responses.
The top court said the matter would be heard in the week commencing July 19.
The high court had on June 15 granted bail to the three student activists saying “in an anxiety to suppress dissent the State has blurred the line between right to protest and terrorist activity”. The court said if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a “sad day for democracy”.
The high court, in three separate judgments, set aside the trial courts orders denying bail to these student activists and allowed their appeals by admitting them to regular bail on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each along with two sureties of the like amount. These three student activists were released from jail on June 17.The case relates to the last years communal violence in north-east Delhi during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).