The Supreme Court today extended interim protection from arrest to Rajendra Bihari Lal, the vice-chancellor of Uttar Pradesh's Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology, and Sciences, and some other officials of the institution in a case of alleged illegal religious conversion, rape and immoral trafficking.

The FIR against them was lodged by a woman, a former contractual employee of the university, on November 4, 2023, in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh.

A bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Sanjay Kumar directed the Uttar Pradesh government to file its reply within a week on a plea filed by the vice-chancellor.

"Interim order to continue until the next date of hearing," the bench said while posting the matter for hearing after three weeks.

Lal and others had moved the Apex Court against the Allahabad High Court order asking them to surrender.

The High court, in its December 11, 2023, order, said, "Since the petitioners are accused of a heinous offence, we direct that they should surrender before the majesty of the Court on or before December 20, 2023, and apply for regular bail.

"The bail application of the accused petitioners shall be heard and decided by the court concerned thoroughly on merits as expeditiously as possible unaffected by any of the observations," it said.

While passing the order, the high court observed, "No God or true church or temple or mosque would approve such type of malpractices".

"If someone on his own has chosen to get himself converted to a different religion is totally another aspect of the issue. In the instant case, prevailing upon a tender mind of a young girl providing gifts, clothing and other physical amenities and then asking her to get her baptised is an unpardonable sin," the High court had said.

The woman had accused them of sexual exploitation and religious conversion after offering her a job at the university.

Lal and the other accused contended before the high court that the FIR was driven by malafide as the woman had been sacked.

While refusing to quash the FIR, the high court had said the allegations levelled by the woman were "extremely serious and horrifying" as the accused exploited her financial position to lure her into conversion. The allegations of sexual exploitation levelled against them in the FIR are abhorrent, the Court said.

The High Court had directed the Hamirpur superintendent of police to personally supervise the probe being conducted by three officials of circle officer ranks with utmost transparency.

It had directed a superintendent of police to ensure an objective investigation of the case within 90 days and submit a report before a magistrate.

With PTI Inputs