Nagpur Bench Of BHC Acquits Political Prisoner Dr G N Saibaba In Maoist Links Case

Mumbai, March 5, 2024: The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday acquitted political prisoner Dr. G.N. Saibaba, (a former professor of English at Delhi University’s Ram lal Anand College), and his five co-defendants in a Maoist links case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), saying the prosecution could not prove the case against them beyond reasonable doubt.

In its 293-page verdict, the bench held that the prosecution failed to prove electronic evidence and it was difficult to accept that the accused had conspired and made preparation to commit a terrorist act which was not spelt out in the case. Observing that procedural mandate was not followed in maintaining the case diary despite charges of serious offenses leveled against the accused, it said the evidence could not be “free from doubt’”.

It also observed that mere possession of literature sympathetic to Maoist philosophy could not be an offense under the UAPA and merely downloading Maoist material wouldn’t constitute an offense unless specific evidence was provided.

Within hours, the Maharashtra government approached the Supreme Court seeking an urgent hearing, after it failed to convince the High Court to stay the implementation of the judgment.

A Division Bench of Justice Vinay Joshi and Justice Valmiki S.A. Menezes also set aside the life sentence awarded to Dr. Saibaba and the other accused — Mahesh Tirki, Hem Mishra, Pandu Narote (who died in 2022), Vijay Tirki and Prashant Rahi — by a sessions court in 2017, and held the sanction for prosecution under UAPA as “null and void”.

A Bombay High Court led by Justice Rohit B. Deo too had acquitted Dr. Saibaba and the other five accused on October 14, 2022, only for the Supreme Court to stay the verdict and ask for the case to be heard afresh.

Soon after the judgement was pronounced on Tuesday, Advocate-General Birendra Saraf, on behalf of the State, requested the High Court to stay the operation of its judgment for six weeks to allow the government to approach the Supreme Court. However, the Bench refused to grant a stay. “We have already acquitted the accused and directed their release forthwith if not required in any other case. We cannot stall the said order, which may affect the right to personal liberty,” the court said.

Noting that the prosecution had failed to “establish any legal seizure or any incriminating material against the accused”, the court said, “The trial court judgment is not sustainable in the hands of law. We, therefore, allow the appeals and set aside the impugned judgment. All the accused stand acquitted.”

The Maharashtra government subsequently filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Dr. Saibaba, who is wheelchair-bound, was arrested on May 19, 2014 while he was on his way home from Delhi University, by a joint team of the Maharashtra police, Andhra Pradesh police, and the Intelligence Bureau, in a case pertaining to alleged ties with the CPI (Maoist) and its frontal group the Revolutionary Democratic Front. He has been lodged in the Nagpur Central Jail since his arrest in the case in 2014.

In March 2017, a sessions court in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra state, convicted Dr. Saibaba and five other accused for indulging in activities amounting to waging war against the country. They were also held guilty of possessing Maoist literature that they planned to circulate among underground Maoists and the residents of Gadchiroli district to provoke the people to resort to violence.

Based on the charges of Section 45(1) of the UAPA by the sessions court, Dr. Saibaba had filed an appeal in the Bombay High Court, where a Bench led by Justice Deo too had acquitted him and the other five, citing procedural lapses. “While terrorism poses an ominous threat to national security and every legitimate weapon in the armory must be deployed against it, a civil democracy cannot sacrifice procedural safeguards afforded to the accused,” the Bench had noted.

However, the very next day, a special Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice M.R. Shah (now retired) and Justice Bela M. Trivedi suspended their acquittals, stating that the High Court did not consider “the merits of the case including the gravity of the offense”. In April 2023, it set aside the HC’s acquittal order and directed it to hear the appeal filed by Dr. Saibaba afresh.

Welcoming Tuesday’s verdict, Dr. Saibaba’s wife Vasantha Kumari said that her husband’s reputation was never at stake as people who knew him had always believed in him. “It feels like a huge relief but we don’t know what to expect right now. He was acquitted in 2022 as well, but the decision was challenged. Till the time he comes back home here, we will remain anxious,” she said in Delhi.

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