The Supreme Court on Saturday suspended the Bombay high court order acquitting former Delhi University (DU) professor G N Saibaba and others in a Maoist-links case, saying the merits of the case was not considered while granting them the relief.
The top court rejected Saibaba's request to order his release from jail due to his disability and health conditions and put him under house arrest after the Maharashtra government opposed the prayer, saying nowadays, there is a new tendency of "urban Naxals" to seek house arrest.
It, however, allowed Saibaba to move a fresh bail application in the case.
The high court had acquitted Saibaba and others in the case on Friday.
An apex court bench of justices M R Shah and Bela M Trivedi, which sat on a non-working day to hear the matter, said, "We are of the opinion that this is a fit case to exercise powers under Section 390 CrPC and to suspend the impugned judgment and order passed by the high court."
It said, "We are of the firm opinion that the impugned judgment and order passed by the high court is required to be suspended. For the reasons stated, the impugned judgment and order passed by the high court is ordered to be suspended till further orders."
It issued notice to Saibaba and others and sought their replies by December 8 on a plea moved by the Maharashtra government against the high court order and stayed the release of all the accused in the case from jail.
It said that the offences for which the accused were convicted by the trial court are very serious and against the sovereignty and integrity of the country and a detailed scrutiny of the judgment is required as the high court did not consider the merits of the case.
"The high court has not at all dealt with and considered anything on the merits of the judgment and order passed by the trial court, though even according to the counsel appearing on behalf of A-6 (Saibaba), the detailed submissions were made on behalf of the accused on merits of the appeal and on the judgment and order of conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court," it said.
The bench added that the high court has discharged the accused number 1-5 only on the ground that the sanction was invalid, mainly on the ground that some material which was placed before the appropriate authority at the time of sanction/review were placed were available on the very day and that no reasons are given while granting sanction.
"The same is required to be considered in detail considering provision of Section 465 CrPC. So far as the A-6 is concerned, the accused has been discharged on the ground that there was no sanction the day on which the trial court took cognizance and even famed the charge. However, the same question is required to be considered in detail..." it said.
Appearing for Saibaba, senior advocate R Basant said his client is paraplegic with 90-95 per cent disability and wheelchair-bound with almost zero per cent mobility.
"He has a 23-year-old daughter and a wife. His bones are touching his lungs, which is further complicating the things. Looking at these aspects, please do not drag him back into jail. Please release him from jail and put him under house arrest and he will abide by any conditions which the court would impose," Basant said.
Opposing the prayer for house arrest, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said, "Nowadays, there is a tendency of urban Naxals that seek house arrest, but everything can be done from home. This house arrest cannot be an option."
Basant said the court may order for the cutting of Saibaba's phone lines.
During the hearing, Mehta said there were certain disturbing facts in the case and Saibaba was involved in various activities, including an armed separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir, waging war against the democratic setup of the country and arranging meetings of Maoist commanders.
"He was their brain and used to propagate their ideology," Mehta said.
Referring to Mehta's submission, Basant said Saibaba may have some inclination towards the Maoist ideology, but he was certainly not their brain.
The bench said, "We are not referring to this case but in general. The brain is the most dangerous thing. For terrorists or Maoists, the brain is everything. Direct involvement is not necessary."
The bench framed three questions to be decided by the apex court in the appeal including whether the high court was justified in discharging the accused Saibaba, who never raised the issue of absence of the mandatory sanction to prosecute under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) during the trial stage and did so only at the appellate stage in the high court.
Justice Trivedi said it is a settled law that an acquittal order cannot be passed by an appellate court without reversing the findings of the trial court's conviction order.
More than eight years after his arrest, the high court acquitted Saibaba, lodged in Nagpur Central prison on Friday and ordered his release from jail, noting that the sanction order issued to prosecute the accused in the case under the stringent provisions of the UAPA was "bad in law and invalid".
It quashed the 2017 order of the trial court convicting Saibaba (52) that convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment for offences under provisions of UAPA and IPC.
Apart from Saibaba arrested in 2014, the court has acquitted Mahesh Kariman Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote (both farmers), Hem Keshavdatta Mishra (student) and Prashant Sanglikar (journalist), who were sentenced to life imprisonment, and Vijay Tirki (labourer), who was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Narote died during the appeal's pendency.