The Supreme Court on Friday said it would not interfere in a Delhi High Court order granting bail for student-activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, who have been accused of orchestrating the Delhi riots and been charged with conspiracy under anti-terror law UAPA.
However, the two-member bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian also said the Supreme Court would examine legal aspects of the bail order.
The bench noted this case could have “pan-India ramifications” and the way UAPA, or Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, had been interpreted by the High Court would have to be examined.
This matter will be heard next month, the Supreme Court said, stressing that the High Court’s bail order could not, in the meantime, be used as precedent for other cases.
Ms Narwal, Ms Kalita and Mr Tanha walked out of jail last night, two days after the Delhi High Court ordered their release. The High Court had highlighted the distinction between the “constitutionally guaranteed right to protest” and terrorist activity as it permitted the activists bail.
Their release had been opposed by Delhi Police, which said that the High Court, in permitting bail, had “conducted a mini-trial… (and) recorded perverse findings which are contrary to the record”.
In its judgement for Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita the High Court had said: “In its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the State, the line between constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred.”
In the earlier judgment – pertaining to bail for Mr Tanha – the court said: “The phrase terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be casually applied to criminal acts that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offences under the IPC.”
The court also said there was a “complete lack of any specific, factual allegations…. other than those spun by mere grandiloquence” and “(such serious sections) must be applied in a just and fair way, lest it unjustly ropes within its ambit persons whom the Legislature never intended to punish”.
In today’s brief hearing Delhi Police first asked the Supreme Court to “stay the order because (it) virtually records the acquittal of the accused”.
“53 died and many were police officers… 700 were injured. The court says riots were controlled so UAPA is not applicable… How can the intensity of the offence be diluted?” Delhi Police asked.
“(Delhi) High Court watered down UAPA,” Delhi Police claimed.
The Supreme Court said: “We agree. There are many questions that arise. UAPA was not challenged before the High Court.” The top court also said it was troubling that a 100-page judgment discussing all laws had been passed for a bail hearing.
“What we can say is, bail has been granted and they will not be affected, but will stay the effect of the High Court order,” the Supreme Court said, to which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police, said: “I agree that the Delhi High Court order be not stayed so that bail to three is cancelled, but let it not be a precedent.”
Natasha Narwal, 32, Devangana Kalita, 31 and Asif Tanha, 25, were arrested in May last year.
Ms Narwal and Ms Kalita are PhD students at the Department of Women’s Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mr Tanha is a BA student at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Violence broke out in the northeastern parts of Delhi in February last year after tension between supporters of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act and those protesting against it.
Over 50 people died and around 200 were injured in the violence that followed.