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SC upholds bail granted under UAPA to man accused of chopping off Kerala professor’s hand

Najeeb was arrested in 2015 and was chargesheeted by the NIA pursuant to which the respondent is now facing trial

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The Supreme Court on Monday upheld bail granted to an accused charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 1967 and ruled that it does not stop constitutional courts from granting bail on the grounds of violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution.

The three-judge bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose held that when there is no likelihood of the trial being completed soon, and a large part of the maximum sentence has already been served as an undertrial, the rigours of the UAPA provisions melt down.

The fact of the case is that the several members of Popular Front of India (PFI) were arrested for chopping the hand of Professor T.J. Joseph at Muvattupuzha on July 4, 2010. The members of the PFI, allegedly an extremist Islamic organisation, had got enraged with one of the questions for the internal examination of B.Com students at Newman College, Thodupuzha and had attacked the professor while he was returning home with his mother and sister after attending Sunday mass at a local church.

Najeeb was eventually arrested in 2015 and a chargesheet was re­filed by the NIA against him, pursuant to which the respondent is now facing trial. The respondent approached the Special Court and the High Court for bail as many as six times between 2015 and 2019, but the same was rejected. Eventually, the High Court granted him bail in July 2019 in view of the delay in trial.

The NIA had appealed the Kerala HC’s decision to grant bail to the men accused of chopping off the professor’s palm in 2010. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, saying that since the high court had used the long incarceration period as logic for granting bail, the order stood on firm ground.

The court noted that, in this case, the High Court invoked its power to grant bail owing to the long period of incarceration and the unlikelihood of the trial being completed anytime in the near future. The reasons assigned by the High Court are apparently traceable back to Article 21 of the Constitution, of course without addressing the statutory embargo created by Section 43D (5) of UAPA.

The Supreme Court asserted that while Section 43D(5) does include restrictions, it “does not oust the ability of Constitutional Courts to grant bail on grounds of violation of Part III (fundamental rights) of the Constitution”.

The court also noted that unlike Section 37 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act where the competent Court needs to be satisfied that prima facie the accused is not guilty and that he is unlikely to commit another offence while on bail, there is no such pre­-condition under the UAPA.

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The court, therefore, upheld the bail granted to K.A. Najeeb, who had been in jail since April 2015.

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