New Delhi, June 15 : The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said the frivolous use of serious penal provisions of stringent anti-terror law UAPA against people would only trivialise it, as it granted bail to JNU students and Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal and Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha in a case of the "larger conspiracy" related to Delhi riots last year.
The High Court stressed that the phrase "terrorist act" cannot be applied in "a cavalier manner".
A bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani said: "We are constrained to express, that it seems, that in its anxiety to suppress dissent, in the mind of the state, the line between the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest and terrorist activity seems to be getting somewhat blurred. If this mindset gains traction, it would be a sad day for democracy." Granting bail to Tanha, the court noted although the definition of "terrorist act" in Section 15 of the UAPA is wide and even somewhat vague, the definition must partake of the essential character of terrorism and the phrase cannot be permitted to be applied in a cavalier manner to criminal acts or omissions that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offences as defined inter alia under the IPC.
It emphasised that alleging extremely grave and serious penal offences under Sections 15, 17 and 18 of the UAPA against people frivolously would undermine the intent and purpose of the Parliament in enacting a law that is meant to address threats to the very existence of the nation.
"Wanton use of serious penal provisions would only trivialise them. Whatever other offence(s) the appellant may or may not have committed, at least on a prima facie view, the State has been unable to persuade us that the accusations against the appellant show commission of offences under Sections 15, 17 or 18 of the UAPA," observed the court.
While granting bail to Narwal, the High Court noted a closer reading of the allegations made against the appellant shows that no specific, particularised or definite act is attributed to her, apart from the admitted fact that she engaged herself in organising anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests around the time when violence and rioting broke out in certain parts of northeast Delhi.
"In our reading of the subject charge sheet and the material included in it, therefore, the allegations made against the appellant are not even borne out from the material on which they are based. The state cannot thwart grant of bail merely by confusing issues," it said.
The High Court noted that allegations relating to inflammatory speeches, organising of 'chakka jam', instigating women to protest and to stock pile various articles shows Narwal participated in organising protests. "But we can discern no specific or particularised allegation, much less any material to bear out the allegation, that the appellant incited violence, what to talk of committing a terrorist act or a conspiracy or act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act as understood in the UAPA," said the court granting bail to Narwal.
The court passed three separate judgements granting bail to Kalita, Narwal and Tanha in a case of larger conspiracy related to northeast Delhi riots in February last year.