The Bombay High Court while granting bail to Mr. Anand Teltumbde in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case held that prima facie cannot prove that he was involved in any terrorist activity under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).

The Division Bench of Justice A.S. Gadkari and Justice Milind N. Jadhav observed –

"Section 20 cannot be interpreted to mean that merely been a member of a terrorist gang would entail such a member for the above punishment. What is important is the terrorist act and what is required for the Court to see is the material before the Court to show that such a person has been involved in or has indulged in a terrorist act. Terrorist act is very widely defined under Section 15. In the present case, seizure of the incriminating material as alluded to hereinabove does not in any manner prima facie leads to draw an inferance that, Appellant has committed or indulged in a 'terrorist act' as contemplated under Section 15 of the UAP Act."

The Bench further held that "In view of the above discussion and findings, we are of the prima facie opinion that on the basis of material placed before us by NIA which has been looked into by us, it cannot be concluded that Appellant has indulged into a terrorist act. The material placed on record prima facie does not inspire confidence to bring the Appellant's act as alleged for the punishment prescribed under Sections 16, 18, and 20 of the UAP Act as they read."

Advocate Mihir Desai appeared on behalf of the appellant.

Senior Public Prosecutor Sandesh Patil represented the NIA i.e., National Investigation Agency and Advocate J.S. Lohakare represented the State.

Facts of the Case –

Mr. Anand Teltumbde aged 73 years was working at the Goa Institute of Management as a Senior Professor. He was accused of being the Convenor of the Elgar Parishad Program held on December 31, 2017, which was organised by Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan. That Program led to the violence at Bhima Koregaon, Pune, and incidents of arson and stone pelting were reported over there. On January 1, 2018, mobs bearing saffron flags attacked persons travelling to and returning from Shaniwarwada Pune. That violence also resulted in the death of an innocent person.

A Zero FIR was registered on January 2, 2018, i.e., the next day after the violence at Pimpri Chinchwad Police Station, Pune by an eye-witness. A State-wide bandh was also called by several organisations against such attacks in Maharashtra. It was alleged that a few speakers, compere, singers, and other performers performed and spoke in the Elgar Parishad Program and those speakers gave provocative speeches that had the effect of disrupting the columnal harmony. The banned terrorist organisation Communist Party of India (Maoist) i.e., CPI (M) was involved in such a program. It was alleged that Anand Teltumbde i.e., the appellant was an active member of the Central Committee of CPI(M).

The appellant was thereafter accused in FIR registered by NIA under Sections 120-B, 115, 121, 121-A, 124-A, 153, 201, 505(1)(b), and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and under Sections 13, 16, 17, 18, 18B, 20, 38 and 39 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. He filed a writ petition in the High Court seeking the quashing of the FIR but the same got dismissed. Then, the Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Petition but extended his protection from arrest. The appellant also filed an anticipatory bail application before the Special Court, Pune which was dismissed. He surrendered himself pursuant to directions passed by the Supreme Court in its Order. The NIA filed a chargesheet against him and he filed a regular bail application in the Special Court- NIA but the same got rejected. Therefore, the appellant filed an appeal in the High Court challenging the order of the Special Judge.

The High Court in the above-stated facts noted –

"On reading the draft charges and the chargesheet qua the Appellant, we prima facie find that NIA has not investigated or made any investigation in respect of this aspect. However, it is their case that the banned terrorist organization CPI(M) used the Elgar Parishad Program as a platform to further its larger conspiracy and Appellant being an active member of CPI(M) and being associated with its activities has participated in the larger conspiracy of CPI(M) and therefore does not deserve to be enlarged on bail."

The Court further noted that "However, on prima facie reading of the above documents and statements referred to and relied upon by NIA qua the Appellant, we are afraid to state that to we do not agree with the contention of NIA. On prima facie appreciating the material on record as well as the statements of three key witness against Appellant, we do not think that provisions of Sections 16 and 18 can be invoked at this stage against Appellant for want of better proof and evidence. On reading the chargesheet and the material placed before us, prima facie it cannot be inferred that Appellant has involved himself in a 'terrorist act'."

The Court also observed –

"On reading Hany Babu's judgment, it is seen that 64 documents were seized from the custody of Hany Babu which explained his links with CPI(M), his precise role and network. Further 14 documents were seized from other co accused which also referred to his role. Such is not the case herein. As alluded to herein above, there are 5 documents (letters) and 3 key witness statements which have been pressed against the Appellant by NIA. We have prima facie analysed the said material and recorded our prima facie findings on the basis of broad probabilities."

The Court further stated that "We are once again afraid to state that the considerations which weighed with us while delivering the judgment in the case of Jyoti Jagtap (3 rd supra) were entirely different. For the sake of brevity, we do not wish to repeat and reiterate those considerations. Our judgment speaks for itself. We do not agree with the submissions of NIA that Appellant's case is identical to the case of Jyoti Jagtap (3 rd supra) and the present Appeal deserves to be dismissed."

The Court thereafter concluded and held –

"In view of the above discussion and findings and considering the fact that Appellant has no criminal antecedents and he having being behind bars for more than two and half years, in our opinion, a case for grant of bail has been made out."

Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal and granted bail to the appellant.

Cause Title – Dr. Anand Teltumbde v. The National Investigation Agency and Anr.

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