SC Grants Bail to GN Saibaba in Naxalite Link Case

The court pulled up the Maharashtra government for opposing the DU professor’s bail

GN Saibaba. Credit: PTI

GN Saibaba. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to disabled Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, who was arrested in May 2014 on charges of alleged links with the Maoists.

A bench comprising of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan pulled up the Maharashtra government when it opposed bail to Saibaba on grounds that he will tamper with witnesses. During the hearing in February, the bench had directed the state to keep him in a guest house and provide him with medical treatment. The court had granted time for examination of crucial witnesses and posted the matter for further hearing today.

On Monday, during the resumed hearing, counsel for Maharashtra submitted that eight more witnesses are to be examined and that Saibaba should not be released on bail in the meanwhile. Justice Khehar told the state counsel:  “You have been extremely unfair to the accused, specially given his medical conditions. Why do you want him in jail if key witnesses have been examined? You are unnecessarily harassing the petitioner.”

In his bail plea, Saibaba said he was granted interim bail by a division bench of the Bombay high court on the basis of an email sent to the chief justice by Purnima Upadhyay, a social activist, who relied upon a report about the physical condition of  Saibaba written by journalist Pavan Dahat in a newspaper article. The bench asked Saibaba to seek regular bail in the sessions court. Even as the matter was pending, a single judge on December 23, 2015 acting on a PIL, cancelled the bail and directed him to surrender.

Arrested in May 2014 from the Delhi University campus, the wheelchair-bound teacher has been in Nagpur jail. He had moved the apex court complaining that he was made to travel 170 km every time to attend his case hearings.

The Maharashtra government strongly opposed bail to Saibaba, alleging that it had received intelligence inputs that Maoists have launched a campaign to free the professor. “There were instances wherein the Naxal leaders were rescued by the Naxalites in Jahanabad (Jharkhand), Dantewada (Chhattisgarh) and Belampalli (Andhra Pradesh),” the government affidavit said. It referred to a press note published on a website, calling upon the cadres to launch a nationwide public agitation for Saibaba’s release. The note, it said, called upon the cadres to use all means to get him out of custody.  However, the bench rejected the government’s stand and ordered his release on bail.

Though Saibaba has now been granted bail, a contempt case against the author Arundhati Roy for writing an article questioning the criminal proceedings against him is still hanging fire.

The Bombay High Court had directed registration of a contempt case against her, citing the article. In response, Roy said a reading of the contents of the article would reveal that she was only highlighting the plight of a person who is 90% disabled, wheelchair-bound and suffers from a degenerative medical condition that requires constant medical care.

She contended that no bail application of Saibaba was pending when she wrote the article. Therefore, there is no basis to hold that she had a “malafide motive” or a “game plan” to interfere in the administration of justice. While seeking protection of her fundamental right to the freedom of expression, she said there will be a far-reaching, adverse impact if contempt proceedings are initiated against her. She believed that the question of Saibaba’s liberty was quite literally a question of life and death, due to his worsening medical condition, and therefore it was of urgent and utmost importance that he be granted bail. Her matter is still pending adjudication in the apex court.