"We don't believe in unnecessarily keeping people behind the bars," the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday while hearing the pleas filed by the Delhi Police against the bail granted to three student activists in a case of the 2020 North East Delhi riots.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said spending hours hearing the bail petitions in the case was a "complete wastage" of time of the Delhi high court.
The bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and J B Pardiwala, was hearing the pleas filed by the police challenging the Delhi High Court's June 15, 2021 verdicts granting bail to activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the case related to communal violence during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
At the outset, advocate Rajat Nair, appearing for police, requested the bench to post the petitions for hearing after two weeks, saying Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is leading him, is arguing before a Constitution bench in a separate matter.
"We have a case that bail granted by the high court should be cancelled," he said.
The bench, while noting that the Solicitor General is arguing in a matter before a Constitution bench, posted the pleas for hearing on January 31.
The apex court observed that in bail matters, the moment one goes into the merits of the case, the hearing gets prolonged.
One of the advocates, appearing for the accused, said in this matter, the police had argued on the merits before the high court.
Nair said the police had only answered the question put by the high court as to whether the act committed by the accused is an act of terror or not.
"You have spent hours in bail matters. It is complete wastage of time of the high court. You want a full trial in bail matters? This I don't understand," Justice Kaul observed.
During the hearing in the matter on July 2021, the apex court had indicated its reluctance to consider the aspect of cancellation of bail granted to the three activists, who were booked under the provisions of the stringent anti-terror law -- Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
It had termed as troubling that the bail petitions were being argued at length debating the provisons of the law.
The apex court had earlier 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 top court, which had agreed to hear the appeals filed by police and issued notices to the three, had refused to stay the high court verdicts.
It had also clarified that the release of the three activists on bail was not being interfered with at this stage.
Earlier, Mehta had argued that 53 people had died and over 700 were injured during the riots which took place at a time when the then US president and other dignitaries were in the national capital.
The high court had said although the definition of a 'terrorist act' in section 15 of the UAPA is "wide and somewhat vague", it must partake the essential character of terrorism and that the phrase 'terrorist act' cannot be permitted to be applied in a "cavalier manner" to criminal acts that squarely fall under the purview of the Indian Penal Code.
The Delhi Police had assailed the HC verdicts, saying the interpretation by the high court will weaken the prosecution in terror cases.
The high court had granted them bail, saying in an anxiety to suppress dissent the State has blurred the line between the right to protest and terrorist activity, and if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a "sad day for democracy".
Kalita, Narwal and Tanha are accused in four, three and two cases related to the communal riots that broke out on February 24, 2020.