1 March 2023 8:46 AM GMT
The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday denied anticipatory bail to the Vice Chancellor of Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (formerly Allahabad Agricultural Institute) (Dr.) Rajendra Bihari Lal and Institute's Director Vinod Bihari Lal in connection with a mass religious conversion case.Noting that they are an influential person and their intent behind...
The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday denied anticipatory bail to the Vice Chancellor of Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (formerly Allahabad Agricultural Institute) (Dr.) Rajendra Bihari Lal and Institute's Director Vinod Bihari Lal in connection with a mass religious conversion case.
"Substantial evidence has been unearthed which proves the involvement of the applicants in the offence pertaining to the cause of affecting the public at large, thus, such offence cannot be taken up in a normal course. Efforts regarding the collection of evidence pertaining to channelizing funding are being done by the Investigating Officer wherein the applicants are required to cooperate with the investigation. In such cases, the investigation must proceed without the applicants being under the protection of this Court through the Investigating Officer who is well versed with the process of law and is a part of law enforcement machinery."
The Court further observed that the case against the applicants has transcended and gone beyond a simple case for anticipatory bail, where, during the pendency of the present application, several first information reports have been lodged by the victims who have been converted by undue influence or allurement.
In this regard, the Court made a categorical observation that it cannot close its eyes to the fact that the material evidence has been collected regarding the mass conversion of persons and this case has taken a far more serious turn where the victims are coming forward to give evidence, thus, in case protection is granted, same would hamper the process of investigation.
The Court also noted that earlier during the pendency of the plea, the applicants were granted interim protection with a condition to appear before the Investigating Officer, however, the applicants failed to obey the court's directions and their non-appearance, the Court added, shows that they do not have any intention to cooperate in the investigation.
The case against the applicants
The FIR, in this case, was lodged last year in April on the complaint filed by one Himanshu Dixit with the allegations that about 90 persons of Hindu religion have been congregated at Evangelical Church of India, Hariharganj, Fatehpur for the purpose of their conversion to Christianity by putting them under undue influence, coercion and luring them by playing fraud and promise of easy money, etc.
On receiving this information, the Government officers reached the place and interrogated the pastor Vijay Massiah, who allegedly disclosed that the process for conversion was going on for the last 34 days and that this process shall be completed within 40 days.
He also allegedly told that they have been trying to convert even patients admitted to the Mission Hospital and the employees play an active role in the same. Pursuant to this, the Government officers found 35 persons (named in the F.I.R.) and 20 unknown persons as having been involved in this conversion of 90 persons of the Hindu community to Christianity.
The FIR was registered under Sections 153A, 506, 420, 467, 468 I.P.C. and Sections- 3/5(1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act
The present applicant was not named in the FIR, however, he was implicated at a subsequent stage on the basis of statements given by two interested witnesses and Investigating Officer of the case as being biased against the applicant.
Now, before the Court when the applicants argued that they are not named in the FIR that the offence is not serious in nature and they are respectable persons, but they are being made to implicate him in the offence and he is being victimized for reasons best known to the persons concerned.
They also argued that they have not been named in the FIR. However, rejecting this argument, the Court observed that they cannot be excused only considering the fact that they have not been named in the first information report.
"The offence as per present FIR as well as the material collected during the investigation and the FIR as lodged by the victims, sentiments of public at large are involved wherein any secular country like India the same would amount in shattering the peace and harmony which would affect public order," the Court added.
The Court also observed that the applicants were also well aware of the offence as a notice under Section 41(1) Cr.P.C. was given to them to which a reply was submitted and after collecting material evidence when remand of few persons was taken under the relevant Sections.
Further, the Court noted that the applicants were required to cooperate with the investigation but they have been absconding since then which resulted in the issuance of non-bailable warrants on 04.2.2023.
"It can also be interpreted in a manner that the allegations of mass conversion as levelled against the applicants, who are influential persons, and they are channelizing the funds collected from overseas groups for the above purpose, such act shows the gravity of offence, therefore, the instant case is not fit for grant of anticipatory bail as the issue of security and violation of citizens’ right to freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion is involved...It may be kept in mind that anticipatory bail is an extraordinary remedy to be exercised in suitable cases only. The power under section 438 Cr.P.C. cannot be utilized in a routine manner as a substitute for regular bail," the Court added as it dismissed their plea.
Case title - Vinod Bihari Lal vs. State of U.P. and Another and connected matter
Case citation: 2023 LiveLaw (AB) 81
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