New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Friday said there were “good and justifiable grounds” for extending the time to complete investigation against Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam in a case related to alleged inflammatory speeches during the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The high court said that after perusing the details of the investigation carried out till the application or report was filed by the prosecution in the trial court and the points still pending to be carried out by the investigating authority, the decision to extend the period for carrying out the probe cannot be faulted with.
Justice V. Kameswar Rao dismissed the plea by Imam, who was arrested on January 28, challenging the trial court’s June 25 order granting three more months to the Delhi Police, beyond the statutory 90 days, to complete the case’s investigation under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“This court has already held there are good/justifiable grounds for extending the investigation. In view of my above conclusion, the present petition filed by the petitioner (Imam) is devoid of merit and is as such dismissed,” the judge, in its 54-page order, said.
The high court noted that the prosecutor’s report filed in the trial court stated since March 24, 2020, due to global COVID-19 pandemic, a lockdown has been imposed due to which the pace of investigation was seriously disrupted and said this clearly depicts the reasons for not completing the investigation in 90 days.
Imam was arrested on January 28 from Bihar’s Jehanabad district in the case related to violent protests against the CAA near the Jamia Millia Islamia University in December last year.
The statutory period of 90 days from the arrest had concluded on April 27.
He had also sought default bail in the matter on the ground that the probe was not concluded within the statutory period of 90 days and when the police had filed an application for more time to complete the investigation, he was not given a notice as required under the law. The trial court had dismissed the bail plea.
The high court, in its verdict, said Imam has not challenged the addition of Section 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) under the UAPA to the list of offences he is accused of.
The high court said the submission of Imam’s counsel was “not appealing” that mere reproduction of the application of the investigating authority by the prosecutor and recording his satisfaction for praying to extend the time of probe does not demonstrate the application of mind.
It said the submission of senior advocate Rebecca John, representing Imam, that the filing of the application by the prosecution on the 88th day of the arrest is clearly malafide only to deny the statutory bail to the petitioner, is also not convincing.
“This I say so because the addition of Section 13 of UAPA to the offences has not been contested. The UAPA provides for an extension of the period of investigation for a further period of 90 days, that is, totalling 180 days,” the judge said.
The high court noted the submission of Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, representing the police, that the intent of the investigating authority is to complete the investigation in the original time period.
It is only when the period prescribed for completing the investigation is expiring that an application for extension of the period of investigation would lie and further moving the application/report much in advance would be clearly premature and the court could comment that sufficient period is still available for completing the investigation and may reject the same.
It is only when despite efforts, an investigation could not be completed in time, that the investigating authority approached the court for an extension. In any case, there is no bar in law for moving the application on the 88th day, are appealing, the high court noted as Lekhi’s submissions.
Regarding Imam’s submission that no formal notice was given to him or his lawyer by the trial court informing them about the police’s application, the high court said written notice giving reasons is not the requirement of law.
The fact that the counsel of the petitioner was in the knowledge about the impending application/report seeking an extension of time for completion of the investigation beyond 90 days and a written notice giving reasons is not the requirement of law, I find, there is a compliance of principles of natural justice, the judge said, adding that no prejudice has been caused to the accused.
Imam is currently lodged in Guwahati jail in a case related to UAPA registered by the Assam police.
Initially, a case under Section 124 A (sedition), Section 153 A (promoting enmity between classes) and Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code was lodged by the Crime Branch in Delhi, pursuant to the alleged speeches addressed by Imam, allegedly instigating a particular religious section of the society to disrupt/block the access to North East region of India from rest of India, police had claimed.
Imam was allegedly involved in organising protests at Shaheen Bagh but came into limelight after a video showed him making controversial comments before a gathering at Aligarh Muslim University, following which he was booked under sedition charges.
Separate cases have also been registered against him in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.