For more than five years, Champion R Sangma, the suspected commander-in-chief of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), has been in jail in Meghalaya. He is an accused in at least nine cases and every time he was granted bail, police arrested him again citing a new case.
But on Tuesday, that changed in the Supreme Court. A district court in Meghalaya had rejected bail on the police’s opposition in a case where Sangma was not formally arrested nor did he even move a bail application.
“We repeatedly asked the learned counsel for the respondent (Meghalaya police) to point out as to under what provision, in the aforesaid circumstances, this application should be filed when there was no formal arrest of the petitioner, though nobody prevented the respondent to arrest the petitioner in the aforesaid case. Learned counsel for the respondent could not give any reply to the aforesaid question,” observed the Supreme Court bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.
The apex court also said it has “not understood the manner in which the prosecution has acted in this case.”
The arrest came under the scanner with the Supreme Court observing it an “illegal process” that was “clearly impermissible” and was “violative of the rule of law”. The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition was filed by Advocate Shahrukh Alam and Liz Mathew, counsel for Sangma who is charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
“Even if the allegations contained in chargesheet… are serious, the respondent is supposed to act in accordance with law. The manner in which the respondent proceeded in this matter is clearly impermissible, violative of the rule of law and offends the petitioner’s right under Article 21 of the Constitution as he has been detained in custody by adopting totally faulty and illegal process,” the apex court order said.
Sangma has been in custody since 30 July 2012 and moved the top court claiming that the police allegedly continued to implicate him in different cases and that proper documents were not produced during the arrests. During the hearing, the court had asked the police to furnish details of all cases pending against him. The office of the Meghalaya Director General of Police furnished to the Supreme Court a list dated April 17, 2017, in which Sangma was shown to have been arrested in nine cases, and granted bail in 6 out of those nine cases.
The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered Sangma’s release and came down heavily on the Meghalaya police, stating that he was “detained in custody by adopting totally faulty and illegal process.”
A former deputy superintendent of police, Sangma, had quit the police to float the GNLA in 2009 and was allegedly arrested by security forces in Mymensingh in Bangladesh in November 2011. His real name is Pakchara R Sangma and claims to be a proponent of the rights of the Garo Tribal people, who among the most backward in the state, and also became demanded more autonomy for the Garo people, which he later renounced.
The Supreme Court Tuesday said that as on January 2018, the position was that Sangma had been granted bail in the pending cases against him and, should have been released from custody. However, on January 24, an application was made by the prosecution in the Court of Additional District Magistrate (Judicial), Resubelpara, North Garo Hills, Meghalaya.
“In this application, the prosecution stated that the petitioner (Sangma) had submitted a bail application in the (district) court and a request was made that the said bail application be not accepted. Orders dated January 24, 2018, were passed by the Additional District Magistrate (Judicial) whereby the aforesaid prayer of the prosecution was allowed,” the bench said.
The Supreme Court also noted: “The prosecution has moved an application before the Court of Additional District Magistrate (Judicial), North Garo Hills, opposing the bail application made by the petitioner in the Court, in fact, no such bail application was ever filed by the petitioner. There was no question of filing any bail application in the first place as the petitioner was never arrested in this case.”
Taking a serious view of the order, the Supreme Court said that “the effect of the aforesaid order passed by the Additional District Magistrate (Judicial) is that the petitioner remains in custody even when he is not arrested in the aforesaid case and has already been granted bail in all other cases”.
“It is clear from the aforesaid that insofar as order dated 24.01.2018 is concerned, it is non-est, nullity and without any jurisdiction. Even if we presume, as contended by the learned counsel for the respondent, that the application dated 24.01.2018 was not happily worded, the main purpose of the application was to request the court not to release the petitioner. Such an application was not admissible under any provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973,” the Supreme Court said.
It also said, “ We make it clear that we have not restrained the respondent (Meghalaya police) from taking any appropriate legal steps in the aforesaid FIR/chargesheet, which are permissible in law.”