Calcutta HC Sets Aside Conviction Of Alleged Maoists For Sedition After 13 Years [Read Judgment]

Calcutta HC Sets Aside Conviction Of Alleged Maoists For Sedition After 13 Years [Read Judgment]

The Calcutta High Court has set aside the conviction of three alleged Maoists, thirteen years after they were sentenced to life imprisonment by trial court on charges of sedition and waging war against India.

Sushil Ray, Patit Baban Halder and Santhosh Debnath were convicted by Additional District and Sessions Court(Fast Track),Jhargram, on March 17, 2006 for offences punishable under under Sections 121A/122/124A of the Penal Code, Section 25(a)/35 of the Arms Act and Section 4/5 of the Explosive Substances Act.

Sushil Ray had died in 2015, while the appeals filed in 2006 were pending.

The police claimed that they had visited a spot in Tamajuri village on a tip-off about a Maoist meeting and arrested Ray and Halder on the night of May 23, 2005. The police also claimed to have seized 'seditious' articles and leaflets from them.

Debnath was arrested subsequently on June 1,2005 from his rented house at Jangipur, Hooghly District, and Maoist literature and arms were allegedly seized from him.

The Division Bench of Justices Sanjiv Banerjee and Suvra Ghosh observed that the trial court "unfortunately failed to appreciate the law vis-a-vis the evidence in the proper perspective, resultantly missing the salient point that the link between the appellants and the incriminating material produced by the prosecution was non-existent"

In the judgment passed on June 21, the Court noted that arrest and seizure of the persons were made illegally, without following due process. The Court also noted several inconsistencies in the statements of the witnesses regarding the police raid at the meeting place and seizure of incriminating articles.

"the journey to Tamajuri as described by all these witnesses suffers from gross divergence which raises a serious doubt regarding the occurrence itself. The version of the witnesses is that the meeting was held near the Upa Sashthya Kendra to the left of the metal road. But the sketch map prepared by the investigating officer indicates that the place of occurrence was to the right of the metal road. The Upa Sashthya Kendra has not been indicated in the sketch map. The written complaint also says that the place of occurrence was to the left of the metal road. So there has been a shift in the stance as to the place of occurrence which strikes at the root of the prosecution case", observed the bench.

All seizure witnesses were "were admittedly brought to the court by the police to adduce evidence and their stay was arranged by the police". This cast a doubt on their credibility and the witnesses were in probability "tutored", said the Court.

No firearm or ammunition was seized from the possession of the accused persons or any of them and such arms or ammunitions were also not found in any premises occupied by them. No explosive substance was recovered from the alleged place of occurrence and it was not the case of the prosecution that explosive substance of any nature or any firearm was used. Therefore, offences under the Arms Act, 1959 and Explosives Act were held to have been not proved.

In the statement given by the accused under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, they denied the police version of arrest. Patit Paban Halder claimed that he was arrested on May 21, 2005 (May 23 as per police version) and produced in court three days later. Debnath said that he was arrested on May 29 from Burrabazar, Kolkata (contrary to police version of arresting him from Jangipur on June 1 ). They pleaded that they were falsely implicated and their signatures were taken on several blank papers and the police also took their photographs.

Santosh Debnath even tried to put an end to his life by hanging but was rescued by the police.

The High Court held that the arrests were made without preparing proper memo of arrest and without following the mandatory procedure laid down by Supreme Cour in D K Basu's case.

In this backdrop, the Court preferred to give weightage to the statements given by the accused.

"as the prosecution has not succeeded in substantiating the charges brought against the appellants, the version of the appellants in their statements U/S 313 of the Code may be placed beside the prosecution evidence in order to strike a balance between the two. Such exercise leads to the conclusion that the prosecution case suffers from severe contradictions which weigh against the version of the prosecution and is sufficient to grant the benefit of doubt to the appellants", said the Court in the 41 page judgment.

"To sum up, the prosecution has miserably failed to establish the charges levelled against the appellants. There is no evidence on record that links accused Patit Paban Halder to the Tamajuri incident or the seizure of incriminating articles. Admittedly, Santosh Debnath had no nexus with the Tamajuri incident and it has not been proved that he had any association/connection whatsoever with the houses at Parul and Buttola Lane. So it can be inferred that the search and seizure made at Tamajuri and both the residential premises had nothing to do with the appellant", concluded the Court while ordering the immediate release of both the appellants.

The appellants were represented by Advocates Amarta Ghose, Anirban Tarefdar, Somdhuti Parekh and Rimpa Rajpal.

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