Orders on students’ bail won’t be a precedent: Supreme Court

Updated on Jun 19, 2021 04:31 AM IST

The top court, which was hearing appeals by the Delhi Police against the bail orders, said it was staying “the effect of the high court order” but clarified that the three activists, who were released from prison on Thursday evening, shall remain out on bail for now.

Student activist Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha were named in one of these FIRs, accused of orchestrating the blocking of roads in an area where riots broke out.. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)(PTI)
Student activist Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha were named in one of these FIRs, accused of orchestrating the blocking of roads in an area where riots broke out.. (PTI Photo/Kamal Singh)(PTI)
By, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Friday said the Delhi high court orders granting bail to three student activists, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, arrested in May last year for allegedly instigating the February 2020 Delhi riots were “surprising” and directed that these orders shall not be treated as a precedent in any other case or relied upon in any court proceeding.

The top court, which was hearing appeals by the Delhi Police against the bail orders, said it was staying “the effect of the high court order” but clarified that the three activists, who were released from prison on Thursday evening, shall remain out on bail for now.

A bench of justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian remarked that the bail orders required scrutiny of the top court in so far as they sought to interpret the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and returned a finding on the circumstances when the anti-terror law could be invoked.


It accepted submissions of solicitor general Tushar Mehta and additional solicitor general Aman Lekhi, both appearing for the Delhi Police, that the high court orders could impact several other cases under UAPA pending before different courts.

“We agree that many questions arise since the legality of the UAPA or otherwise was not in question before the high court,” remarked the bench.

“The issue is important and it could have pan India ramifications. We are going to issue notice and examine it. The way provisions of the law (UAPA) have been interpreted by the high court, it will probably require an examination by this court. We will like to issue notices and decide the matter for the good of the country,” remarked the bench.

“We will say that since bail has already been granted, we may not interfere with that at this stage. But we will otherwise stay the effect of these orders.”

A high court bench of justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup J Bhambhani on Tuesday ordered the release of the three student activists on bail, describing the charges against them as “hyperbole” and ruling that it would be “a stretch” to “say that the protest affected the community at large for it to qualify as an act of terror”.

Mehta, the country’s second senior-most law officer, underlined that the high court orders turned the UAPA and the Constitution on its head by giving a strange interpretation to the law.

“Unfortunately, the high court says it was in anxiety on the part of the state to suppress dissent. I ask since when did the right to protest started including the right to kill and hurl bombs? 53 were left dead and more than 700 were injured in the riots but the high court says eventually the riots were controlled. It is as good as saying if someone plants a bomb and that bomb is defused, there will not be any crime,” said Mehta.

He said that the high court orders could be cited by the accused in several other cases to seek their exoneration on the sole ground that they genuinely believed in a cause and did not threaten the defence of India, as has been held by the high court.

“If what has been held by the high court becomes a law, the persons who had attacked and bombed an Indian Prime Minister in the past would not and cannot be held as terrorist as they would have also have genuinely believed in their cause and their activity would not be covered by defence of India or an activity carried out during the war,” said Mehta.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the accused, said he had no problem with the Supreme Court examining the high court orders on a point of law but the fact of the matter remained that these were just orders on bail.

To this, the bench replied: “That is what is troubling us. These were orders on bail. In a bail application, a 100-page judgment discussing all laws is very surprising. What we can say is, bail has been granted and they will not be affected, but we will stay the effect of the high court order.”

The bench then issued notices to the student activists, seeking their written replies to the appeals in three weeks. It fixed the matter for hearing next in the week commencing July 19.

Over 750 FIRs were filed and several people arrested for the communal riots that broke out in north-east Delhi in February 2020, leaving 53 people dead and several hundreds injured.

Kalita, Narwal and Tanha were named in one of these FIRs, accused of orchestrating the blocking of roads in an area where riots broke out. Narwal and Kalita had already been granted bail in two other cases, in which they are accused of unlawful assembly and inciting riots. Tanha has already got bail in another case that alleges he was part of a “premeditated conspiracy” to orchestrate the riots.

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