The Supreme Court directed members of Popular Front of India (PFI), an extremist Islamic organization to surrender before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in terrorism case.

The Court was deciding criminal appeals preferred by the Centre and it said that any act in aid to any terrorist act is liable to be restricted.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice Bela M. Trivedi and Justice Pankaj Mithal observed, “This Court has often interpreted the counter terrorism enactments to strike a balance between the civil liberties of the accused, human rights of the victims and compelling interest of the state. It cannot be denied that National security is always of paramount importance and any act in aid to any terrorist act – violent or non-violent is liable to be restricted. The UAPA is one of such Acts which has been enacted to provide for effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations, and to deal with terrorist activities, as also to impose reasonable restrictions on the civil liberties of the persons in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Advocate Rajat Nair represented the appellant while Senior Advocates Rebecca John, Devansh A. Mohta, Mukta Gupta, and S. Balakrishnan represented the respondents.

Brief Facts -

The Central Government in Ministry of Home Affairs received a credible information that the office bearers, members, and cadres of PFI were spreading its extremist ideology across Tamil Nadu, by establishing State Headquarters at Purasaiwakkam, Chennai and also offices in various districts of Tamil Nadu and that through their frontal Organizations like Campus Front of India, National Women’s Front, Social Democratic Party of India etc., they conspired for committing terrorist acts, raise funds for committing terrorist activities, and recruit members for furthering their extremist ideology. The frontal organizations and PFI were involved in the recruitment of members to various prescribed terrorist organizations.

NIA was directed to take up investigation in this case and an FIR was registered against the members and office bearers of PFI (respondents) under Sections 120(b), 153(A), and 153(AA) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 13,17,18,18(B), 38, and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1957 (UAPA). During the investigation, the respondents were arrested in 2022 for the alleged offences and hence, they filed their respective bail applications before the Special Court under NIA Act. The said court dismissed the applications and being aggrieved, the respondents filed appeals before the Madras High Court. The High Court granted bail to them and being aggrieved by such order, the Centre approached the Apex Court.

The Supreme Court in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “In our opinion, the High Court has committed gross error in not considering the material/evidence in its right and proper perspective and in recording a perverse finding to the effect that there was no material to suggest the commission of any offence, which falls under Section 15 of UAPA, and that the prosecution had not produced any material about the involvement of any of the respondents-accused in any terrorist act or as a member of a terrorist gang or organization or training terrorism. Such perverse findings of the High Court deserve to be strongly deprecated more particularly when the appellant has not alleged the offence under Section 15 of UAPA either in the FIR or in the chargesheet against the respondents. The alleged offences are under Section 18, 18A, 18B etc.”

The Court added that for the purpose of considering the offence under Section 18, the commission of terrorist act as contemplated in Section 15 of UAPA is not required to be made out.

“What Section 18 contemplates is that whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites, directly or knowingly facilitates the commission of a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act would be punishable under the said provision. Hence, if there is any material or evidence to show that the accused had conspired or attempted to commit a terrorist act, or committed any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, such material evidence would be sufficient to invoke Section 18”, it further noted.

The Court said that for attracting Section 18, the involvement of the accused in the actual commission of terrorist act as defined in Section 15 need not be shown and the High Court having miserably failed to comprehend the correct import of Section 18 read with the definition of terrorist act as contemplated in Section 15 of UAPA, it fell into a patent and manifest error.

“As held by this Court in Watali’s case, the question of discarding the material or document at the stage of considering the bail application of an accused, on the ground of being not reliable or inadmissible in evidence, is not permissible. The Court must look at the contents of the documents and take such documents into account as it is and satisfy itself on the basis of broad probabilities regarding the involvement of the accused in the commission of the alleged offences for recording whether a prima facie case is made out against the accused”, it enunciated.

The Court also observed that it is for the concerned court considering the application for bail to assess the material/evidence presented by the investigating authority along with the report under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in its entirety, to form its opinion as to whether there are reasonable grounds for believing the accusation against the accused is prima facie true or not.

Accordingly, the Apex Court allowed the appeals, set aside the order of the High Court, ordered the respondents to surrender before NIA forthwith, and directed the Special Court to proceed with the trial as expeditiously as possible.

Cause Title- Union of India v. Barakathullah Etc. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 452)


Appellant: Advocates Rajat Nair, Srishti Mishra, Satvika Thakur, Raman Yadav, Sakshi Kakkar, Sarthak Karol, Annam Venkatesh, and AOR Arvind Kumar Sharma.

Respondents: Senior Advocates Rebecca John, Devansh A. Mohta, Mukta Gupta, S. Balakrishnan, AOR Rizwan Ahmad, Advocates A Nowfal, Nitya Gupta, Javed R Shaikh, Abdul Shukoor, Shereef Ka, Anushka Baruah, AOR A. Selvin Raja, Advocates A. Raja Mohamed, V. S. Banu, and Khalid Akthar.

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