Provisions of Law Not to Be Debated in Bail Matters, SC Says in Student Activists' Case

'Very unlikely, but you can try,' Justice Kaul responded to Delhi Police's plea to set aside bail granted to three activists, and said that he was 'troubled' by the lengthy bail orders with debates on provisions of the law.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday orally told the Delhi Police that it is “very unlikely” to be convinced to set aside the bail granted by the Delhi high court to three student activists, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha, in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, LiveLaw reported. It further termed as troubling that bail petitions are being argued at length debating the provisions of law.

A bench of Justices S.K. Kaul and Hemant Gupta, which was hearing the appeals filed by Delhi Police against the Delhi high court judgments granting bail to the three students, asked whether the police was aggrieved by grant of bail or interpretation and observations in the verdicts.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the police, said they are aggrieved on both the issues and they would try to convince the apex court on these aspects.

“Very unlikely, but you can try,” Justice Kaul responded, and said that he was “troubled” by the lengthy bail orders with debates about the statutory provisions. He further added that the provisions of Act are not to be debated in a bail matter. The three students were booked under stringent anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The top court further said that time is limited now a days and it proposes to hear these appeals for not more than a couple of hours.

The apex court had on June 18 expressed its displeasure over the high court discussing the entire anti-terror law UAPA in a bail matter and made it clear that the judgements shall not be treated as a precedent and may not be relied upon by any of the parties in any of the proceedings.

The apex court had clarified in its June 18 order that release of these students on bail was not being interfered with at this stage.

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Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, who also appeared for the police, said the issue is regarding applicability of section 15 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The Delhi high court had said although the definition of ‘terrorist act’ in section 15 of the UAPA is wide and somewhat vague, it must partake the essential character of terrorism and the phrase ‘terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be applied in a cavalier manner to criminal acts that squarely fall under the Indian Penal Code.

The Delhi Police has assailed the verdict, saying the interpretation of high court would weaken the prosecution in terror cases.

The Delhi high court in its June 15 bail order had said, “We are not persuaded to think that prima-facie the accusations made against Natasha Narwal make-out any offence under sections 15, 17 and 18 of the UAPA; and therefore the stringent conditionalities contained in section 43D(5) of the UAPA would not apply.” “A closer reading of the allegations made against the Natasha Narwal shows that no specific, particularised or definite act is attributed to her, apart from the admitted fact that she engaged herself in organising anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests.”

Tanha’s bail order said, “…though during trial the State will no doubt attempt to marshal evidence and make good the allegations made against the appellant, as we speak now these are mere allegations and, as discussed above, we are not convinced prima facie of the veracity of the allegations so made.”

The Delhi high court had further added that the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’, and that if such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.

The apex court decided to hear the matter after four weeks at the request of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was representing Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal.