Ex-DU prof’s conviction set aside in Maoist case | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Ex-DU prof’s conviction set aside in Maoist case

Mar 06, 2024 05:14 AM IST

Bombay HC acquits ex-DU prof Saibaba and 5 others in Maoist links case, citing lack of proof. State challenges verdict in SC. Saibaba's family relieved.

Nagpur The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on Tuesday acquitted former Delhi University (DU) professor GN Saibaba and five others for suspected Maoist links and “waging war against India”, the second time in two years that the judiciary has quashed charges in the high-profile case.

GN Saibaba (PTI)
GN Saibaba (PTI)

Also Read: Bombay HC acquits GN Saibaba, five others in alleged Maoist links case

A Gadchiroli sessions court sentenced Saibaba, 57, and four others to life imprisonment on March 7, 2017 under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA. A sixth man, Vijay Tirki, was handed a prison term of 10 years.

But a division bench of the high court comprising justices Vinay G Joshi and Valmiki SA Menezes found that the prosecution failed to prove its case.

“The prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the case against the accused persons…the prosecution has failed to establish any legal seizure or any incriminating material against the accused,” said the nearly 250-page judgment.

“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 bench added.

The state asked the court to stay its order but the court refused, noting that it might affect the personal liberty of the accused. Later in the day, the state moved the Supreme Court, challenging the verdict.

The family of Saibaba – who is lodged in Nagpur Central Jail since his arrest in May 2014 amid concerns raised by his relatives about his physical well-being – termed the judgment a victory. “It feels like a huge relief but we don’t know what to expect right now,” his wife Vasantha GN said.

The five convicted along with Saibaba were Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Hem Mishra, former journalist Prashant Rahi, and three activists of the Revolutionary Democratic Front, Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Pora Narote and Vijay Nan Tirki.

While Pandu Narote died in jail in 2022, awaiting the disposal of his appeal in the Bombay high court, Vijay Tirki was granted bail around two years ago.

The remaining four, Saibaba included, were held in Nagpur Central Jail.

This is the second time that Saibaba and the five others have been acquitted in this case. On October 14, 2022, a two-judge bench of the Bombay high court cleared them on account of lack of proper sanction to prosecute. But the government challenged the order in the Supreme Court, which held a special Saturday hearing and set aside the high court’s order. A bench of justices MR Shah and Bela Trivedi held that the high court committed an error in exonerating Saibaba on a technical ground when they were convicted by a trial court in 2017 on merits and after scrutiny of evidence on record.

Saibaba -- who has been wheelchair-bound after he was struck by polio as child -- was arrested by Gadchroli police in May 2014 from his home in Delhi after which he was suspended from his position as professor of English in Delhi University. It has since become one of India’s most high-profile terror cases with activists alleging rights violations and the government arguing that strictest punishment must be meted out given the gravity of the charges.

The Gadchiroli sessions court found Saibaba and the others guilty of “waging war” against the state and having close ties with Left-Wing Extremists, including the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its affiliated groups. Its order was based on the interrogation of Hem Mishra who allegedly revealed that he had acted as a courier between Saibaba and Maoist leaders, including Muppalla Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy, the then secretary general of the outlawed CPI (Maoist).

But on Tuesday, the high court held the sanction to prosecute under UAPA was null and void.

“The entire prosecution is vitiated on account of invalid sanction to prosecute all the accused. The trial held despite the violation of mandatory provisions of the law itself amounts to the failure of justice,” the high court said.

It further pointed out that the prosecution failed to establish legal seizure of material and could not prove any incriminating material had been seized from the accused.

After the judgment was pronounced orally, the Maharashtra government requested the court to stay the operation of its judgment for six weeks to enable it to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Advocate general Birendra Saraf, appearing for the government, informed the bench that an appeal against the high court judgment has been filed in the apex court this afternoon. Saraf asked the high court to stay its judgment for a reasonable time.

The bench, however, refused to grant a stay, noting that it has, in an exhaustive judgment, held that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against the accused and acquitted them.

“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. We reject the application of stay,” the court said.

All eyes will now be on the apex court, which is yet to list the appeal.

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