'National Security Of Paramount Importance' : Supreme Court Sets Aside Bail Granted To PFI Members In UAPA Case

Update: 2024-05-22 07:33 GMT
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday (May 22) set aside the Madras High Court order granting bail to 8 men allegedly belonging to the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The Court cancelled the bail of the persons stating that the allegations of collecting funds to commit terrorist acts against them appeared to be 'prima facie true'....

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday (May 22) set aside the Madras High Court order granting bail to 8 men allegedly belonging to the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The Court cancelled the bail of the persons stating that the allegations of collecting funds to commit terrorist acts against them appeared to be 'prima facie true'. 

The bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal was deciding a challenge by the National Investigating Agency against the High Court's order dated October 19, 2023. The bench took note of the seriousness of the offences alleged, the period of incarceration being 1.5 years, and the nature of material produced by the NIA and agreed to interfere with the impugned order. The Court while cancelling the bail also directed that the trial be expedited. 

" ...The accusations against the respondents are prima facie true and the mandate of proviso contained in S. 43D(5) of the UAPA would be applicable for not releasing the respondents on bail. Having regard to the seriousness and gravity of the offences, previous criminal history of the respondents as mentioned in the charge sheet, the period of custody undergone by the accused being hardly 1.5 years, the severity of the offence, the prima facie material collected during the course of the investigation, the impugned order by High Court cannot be sustained. We are conscious of the legal position that we should be slow in interfering with the order when the bail has been granted by the High Court , however it is equally settled that if such order of granting bail is found to be illegal or perverse, it must me set aside." 

National security of paramount importance

The Court further observed that UAPA reflects the endeavour to curb terrorist activities and ensure the paramountcy of national security in the country. Thus the restrictions imposed upon the civil liberties of individuals or associations accused under the UAPA are done in the larger interest of maintaining the sovereignty and integrity of India. 

"It cannot be denied that national security is always of paramount importance and any act linked to any terrorist act violent or non-violent is liable to be restricted. The UAPA is one of such acts enacted to provide for effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals or associations and to deal with terrorist activities as also to impose certain reasonable restrictions on the civil liberties of such individuals in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India," the Court observed.

The Court set aside the order passed by the High Court is set aside and directed the respondents to surrender forthwith to the NIA. The Court also directed the Special Court to expeditiously accordance with law without being influenced by any of the observations in the judgment.

The impugned order by Justices SS Sunder and Sunder Mohan refused to link the accused to any terrorist activities such as the offence of collecting funds for 'committing terrorist acts'. The NIA had relied upon a 'vision document' which showed the collection of several RSS leaders with markings on them. It was alleged that as per this vision document, the accused had marked the RSS and other Hindu Organisation leaders on the 'hit list' of PFI. 

The High Court rejected these contentions and granted bail to the 13 main accused on the grounds that there was no direct evidence to link the persons to the 'vision document'. It was further observed that PFI is only declared an unlawful association and not a terrorist organisation, thus "any  preparatory act in the context, should be construed as on in defence and not to perpetrate any terrorist act."  

The NIA was represented by SG Mr Tushar Mehta and ASG SV Raju, while the respondents were represented by Senior Advocates Mukul Gupta, Rebecca John, and Shyam Divan.  

Case Details : UNION OF INDIA VS. BARAKATHULLAH SLP(Crl) No. 014036 - 014040 / 2023

Citation : 2024 LiveLaw (SC) 404

Click here to read the judgment

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