The Allahabad High Court has recently denied anticipatory bail to the Vice Chancellor and Director of the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences (SHUATS), a Christian Minority Institution in a religious conversion case.

The Court said that the intent of the accused persons behind the charitable works appears to be dubious affecting the interest of a marginal section of society, the object of law, and the impact of the same on society.

A Single Bench of Justice Manju Rani Chauhan held, “It may be kept in mind that anticipatory bail is an extraordinary remedy to be exercised in suitable cases only. … Having gone through the submissions of learned counsel for the parties, nature of accusation of offence, role of the applicants being highly influential person, their intent behind the charitable works, appears to be dubious, affecting the interest of marginal section of society, object of the law and the impact of the same on society, I do not find it a fit case for granting anticipatory bail.”

The Bench noted that the power under Section 438 of the Cr.PC. cannot be utilized in a routine manner as a substitute for regular bail and that such a discretionary power calls for the existence of facts of the kind where the court is satisfied that its interference is necessary to further the cause of justice and to prevent misuse of process of law.

Advocates Rajiv Lochan Shukla and Kumar Vikrant appeared for the accused while Additional Advocate General Manish Goel and Government Advocates A.K. Sand and Amit Singh Chauhan appeared for the State.

Brief Facts

The applications were moved by the accused persons for the grant of anticipatory bail in connection to the offences punishable under Sections 153-A, 506, 420, 467, 468, and 471 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 & 5(1) of the U.P. Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. An FIR was lodged by an informant alleging that about 90 persons of Hindu religion were congregated at Evangelical Church of India, Hariharganj, Fatehpur for the purpose of their conversion to Christianity by putting them under undue influence, coercion, and luring them by playing fraud and promise of easy money, etc.

On receiving the aforesaid information, the Government officers reached the place and interrogated the pastor who disclosed that the process for conversion was going on for the last 34 days and that such process shall be completed within 40 days. It was further disclosed that they have been trying to convert even the patients admitted to the Mission Hospital and the employees have played an active role in the same. The Government officers found 35 persons and 20 unknown persons as having been involved in such conversion and FIR got registered against them including the applicant.

The High Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case observed, “Substantial evidence has been unearthed which proves involvement of the applicants in the offence pertaining to the cause of affecting public at large, thus, such offence cannot be taken up in a normal course. … It is a settled law that while considering the case for granting anticipatory bail, the Court must not overlook the possibility of accused to influence the prosecution witnesses, threatening family members, fleeing from justice, creating other impediments and fair investigation.”

The Court said that the accused persons cannot be excused only considering the fact that they have not been named in the first information report.

“The offence as per present FIR as well as the material collected during investigation and the FIR as lodged by the victims, sentiments of public at large are involved wherein any secular country like India the same would amount in shattering the peace and harmony which would affect public order”, the Court further said.

The Court asserted that though the object of Section 438 Cr.PC. is to safeguard the personal liberty of an individual, a delicate balance is required to be established between the two rights i.e., safeguarding the personal liberty and societal interest.

“The applicants were required to cooperate with the investigation but they have been absconding since then which resulted in issuance of non-bailable warrants on 04.2.2023. … the applicants even after interim protection granted to them on 09.2.2023 did not cooperate in the investigation, therefore, they cannot be allowed to take stand that the bar as held by the Apex Court in connection with proclaimed offender is not applicable in the case of the applicants”, the Court also observed.

The Court further held that it is the duty of the State to check such activities which are threatening, insulting, and intimidating to the persons and affect the rights and interests of weaker sections of the society in every respect.

“… instant case is not fit for grant of anticipatory bail as the issue of security and violation of citizens’ right to freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion is involved. … The applicants are influential persons who are also required in other matters wherein SIT has been constituted to investigate channelization of funds of the Institution which according to the material collected till date by the Investigating Officer, is being used for the purposes of mass conversion”, said the Court.

The Court, therefore, found that the accused cannot claim parity with other persons who have been released on anticipatory bail and rejected the anticipatory bail applications.

Cause Title- Vinod Bihari Lal v. State of U.P. and Another

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