The Delhi High Court on Tuesday, in three separate orders, while granting bail to the student activists Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal and Asif Iqbal Tanha, called into question the chargesheet filed by Delhi Police in the alleged conspiracy case of Northeast Delhi riots and said that the allegations against them are based on “stretched inferences” and “alarming and hyperbolic verbiage”.
The division bench of Justice Siddharth Mirdul and Justice Anup J. Bhambhani said that the allegations relating to inflammatory speeches, organising chakka jaam, instigating women to protest or stockpiling various articles — “at worst” are evidence of participation in organising the protest. “But we can discern no specific or particularised allegation, much less any material to bear out the allegation, that the appellant incited violence, what to talk of committing a terrorist act or a conspiracy or act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act as understood in the UAPA,” said the court, while granting bail to Narwal.
In Narwal and Kalita’s bail orders, the court also said that after reading the chargesheet and the material filed alongwith it by the prosecution, it prima facie found the allegations made against them “are not even borne out” from the material on which they are based. “The State cannot thwart the grant of bail merely by confusing issues,” it said.
Particularly in reference to the allegation of causing chakkajams and making inflammatory speeches, the court said that the peaceful and nonviolent protests against governmental and parliamentary actions are legitimate and it was not uncommon for protesters to push the limits permissible in law.
“Even if we assume for the sake of argument, without expressing any view thereon, that in the present case inflammatory speeches, chakkajams, instigation of women protesters and other actions, to which the appellant is alleged to have been party, crossed the line of peaceful protests permissible under our Constitutional guarantee, that however would yet not amount to commission of a ‘terrorist act’ or a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘act preparatory’ to the commission of a terrorist act as understood under the UAPA,” it noted further.
Narwal and Kalita are accused by Delhi Police of conspiracy to plan riots and destabilise the government in the guise of anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests. The Pinjra Tod activists are particularly accused of organising the Jafrabad protest and instigating the sit-in protest of women at Madina Masjid in Seelampur. The police also accuse them of distributing packets of chilli-powder to women protesters and asking them to stockpile other items.
In Tanha’s bail order, the court said there is no allegation in the chargesheet that he was leading the alleged co-conspirators, or had formed the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) or he was even the administrator of any of the WhatsApp groups which were formed to organise the protest against Citizenship Amendment Act.
“The appellant is stated to be a member of the SIO (Student Islamic Organisation) and the JCC, admittedly neither of which is a banned organisation or terrorist organisation listed in the First Schedule to the UAPA. The JCC in fact is not even an organisation but only an inchoate committee, defined perhaps only by the WhatsApp group that it runs,” said the court.
Rejecting the police’s allegation that Tanha was under instructions to visit Muslim areas to coordinate with local Imams and help in organising the protesrs at various locations in Delhi, the court said the protest remained limited to Northeast Delhi and “it would therefore be a stretch” to say the protest affected “the community at large” for it to qualify as an act of terror.
However, the court said the “only one specific, particular and overt act” that it has been able to discern is that he handed over a SIM card, given to him by someone else, to a co-accused who used it to send messages on a WhatsApp group. “Other than this one action that is specifically attributed to the appellant, this court is unable to discern any other act or omission attributed specifically to the appellant,” reads the judgement.
The court also said that there is no allegation that any arms or ammunition that were “supposedly to be used as weapons” were recovered from him or at his instance. It also said that “there is absolutely nothing” in the chargesheet to show possible commission of a ‘terrorist act’, an act of ‘raising funds’ to commit the terrorist act, or an act of ‘conspiracy’ to commit an ‘act preparatory’ to commit a terrorist act.
Dismissing the arguments that Section 15 of UAPA not only outlaws an act ‘with intent to threaten’ to foundation of a nation but also the act ‘likely to threaten’ such foundations, the court said that “the foundations of our nation stand on surer footing than to be likely to be shaken by a protest, however vicious, organised by a tribe of college students or other persons, operating as a coordination committee from the confines of a University situate in the heart of Delhi”.
Called one of the “masterminds” of the protests, Tanha had been accused of mobilising Muslims to flare-up communal passions and, along with others, forming the JCC to protest against the CAA.