Family Waits for G.N. Saibaba to Come Home
Saibaba was acquitted by the Bombay high court on Friday
In a special hearing today, the Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the October 14 order of the Nagpur bench, of the Bombay High Court, which discharged former Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and others in an alleged Maoist links case. Saibaba will continue to remain in jail.
The top court also issued notice to the accused on Maharashtra government's plea challenging the High Court and listed the matter for hearing on December 8.
While passing the order, the Supreme Court bench also refused to accept GN Saibaba's request for house arrest on medical grounds, saying the academic has been convicted for a serious offence.
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court also ordered his immediate release from jail. Saibaba is 90 percent physically challenged and wheelchair-bound and is currently lodged at the Nagpur central prison.
Speaking to The Citizen, his wife Vasantha Kumari had expressed happiness with the judgement. "I am very happy and welcome the judgement from the judiciary. This was a fast-track hearing and yet it took a long time to reach here. Due to his incarceration his health has deteriorated more, that is one disadvantage," she said.
However, on Saturday while passing the order, the Supreme Court bench also refused to accept GN Saibaba's request for house arrest on medical grounds, saying the academic has been convicted for a serious offence.
"My client is 90 per cent physically disabled, has multiple ailments. He is confined to his wheel chair," he said.
"The request for house arrest cannot be accepted as he was convicted for a serious offence, the bench said on Saturday.
The Maharashtra government had approached the top court after the Bombay High Court acquitted Mr Saibaba and ordered his immediate release from jail, noting that the sanction order issued to prosecute the accused in the case under the UAPA was "bad in law and invalid".
The top court agreed to hear the matter on urgent listing on Saturday, usually a holiday at the top court, after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta's forceful pitch that the acquittal was not justifiable under the stringent anti-terror law UAPA (The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act).
A division bench of Justice Rohit Deo and Anil Pansare allowed the appeal filed by Saibaba, who was arrested in 2014, challenging a 2017 order of the trial court convicting him and sentencing him to life imprisonment on Friday. The bench also allowed the appeals of five other convicts in the case and acquitted them. The other five convicts are Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote, Hem Keshwdatta Mishra, Prashant Rahi and Vijay Nan Tirki.
Pandu Pora Narote died in August this year after he was infected with swine flu. Narote's lawyer claimed that medical care was not provided in time, leading to his condition worsening, and subsequent death. The HC bench directed for the convicts to be released immediately from jail unless they are accused in any other case.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Friday refused to stay the acquittal of Saibaba after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) moved the apex court for stay hours after the Bombay High Court order. The apex court, however, allowed the NIA to move an application before the registry requesting for urgent listing.
In March 2017, a sessions court in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district convicted Saibaba and others, including a journalist and a Jawaharlal Nehru University student for alleged Maoist links and for indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country. The court had held Saibaba and the others guilty under various provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Saibaba, who has been in a wheelchair due to post-polio paralysis, had earlier filed an application seeking suspension of sentence on medical grounds. He said that he is suffering from multiple ailments, including kidney and spinal cord problems. In 2019, the High Court rejected his application for a suspended sentence. The judges also said the sanction order issued to prosecute the accused in the case under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was "bad in law and invalid". Because the trial was struck down due to the absence of a proper sanction order, the court has allowed the prosecution to obtain proper sanction to try them again. The defence lawyers were Nihalsing Rathod, Pradeep Mandhyan, Barunkumar, H.P. Lingayat and Subodh Dharmadhikari. Appearing for the state were Siddharth Dave, special public prosecutor; and H.S. Chitaley, assistant special public prosecutor. The verdict was welcomed by various people members of the civil society. KM Tiwari, secretary CPI(M) Delhi state committee but said that the misuse of UAPA needs to be addressed. "The decision has once again brought into focus the gross misuse of UAPA. This draconian law has been invoked to keep hundreds of people including a large number of critics and opponents of the Modi government in jail for years on end without trial," he said. Senior lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan too welcomed the verdict and wrote on Twitter, "Great news! Professor GN Saibaba, acquitted of all charges by the Nagpur HC. To be released forthwith. Despite being disabled & in poor health, he was kept in the 'Anda cell' in jail." The case had been registered in the Aheri police station in Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra. The prosecution had claimed that Saibaba was the secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), an alleged frontal organisation of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The RDF is also banned in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. G. N. Saibaba was named as the prime accused in the case. His electronic devices were seized from his residence in 2013. The state had claimed that as many as 247 pages were found to be "incriminating". The police had further claimed that a memory card seized from Hem Mishra contained certain documents that "established" Saibaba's deep involvement in the activities of the banned terrorist organisation. The lower court's conviction was based on the statements of 22 witnesses. Out of them, only one was an independent witness; the rest were all police witnesses. The court had held Saibaba and the others guilty under various provisions UAPA and IPC. The court in its order stated, "The Siren Song that the end justifies the means, and that the procedural safeguards are subservient to the overwhelming need to ensure that the accused is prosecuted and punished, must be muzzled by the voice of Rule of Law. "Any aberration shall only be counter-productive, since empirical evidence suggests that departure from the due process of law fosters an ecosystem in which terrorism burgeons and provides fodder to vested interests whose singular agenda is to propagate false narratives." The defence lawyers, in their appeal against the conviction awarded by the trial court, had pointed to the discrepancies in the sanction orders obtained to try the accused under UAPA. In the written argument submitted to the court, the lawyers noted that the sanction has to be obtained at the evidence stage, where the collected evidence has to be presented to an independent authority for review within seven days. The sanctioning order was granted on February 2, 2014 against only accused numbers 1 to 5. Accused 6, i.e. Saibaba was excluded from this order. Accused number 5 Tirki was released on bail in September 2019. He was given 10 years of rigorous punishment while the rest were awarded life imprisonment. Saibaba was arrested on May 5, 2015. But only nine months after his arrest, a fresh application for sanction was moved. The defence lawyers, in their arguments before the high court, alleged that the new sanctioning authority had not referred to the old order while passing a new one. The trial court had commenced the proceedings even before the sanction could be obtained, which proved to be one of the crucial reasons for the acquittal in the High Court. "In the absence of appropriate sanction being there at the inception, the learned sessions court did not have jurisdiction to proceed against the appellant any further," Saibaba's lawyers had argued in the HC. Since the HC order relied heavily on the absence of a sanction order and not so much on the merit of the case, the court has granted the prosecution liberty to obtain proper sanction to try them again. "The rule against double jeopardy has no application if the trial is held vitiated due to invalidity or absence of a sanction," the court said. After Saibaba's conviction, his lawyer in the lower court, Surendra Gadling; his colleague Hany Babu; and his close friend Rona Wilson were also arrested in years to come under the UAPA charges. While Gadling fought his case in court, Babu and Wilson had run a campaign for his release. All three are named as prime accused in the Elgar Parishad case of 2018. On April 3, 2021, Delhi University's Ram Lal Anand College removed Saibaba from his post as an assistant professor at the college. Saibaba had joined the college in 2003 and was suspended in 2014 when he was arrested by the Maharashtra police.