The Supreme Court has suspended the Bombay High Court's Judgment acquitting G. N. Saibaba in the alleged Maoist link case. The Court also rejected the plea of Saibaba for house arrest.

A Special Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice Bela Trivedi observed in the order that "the trial court by the detailed appreciation of evidence convicted the accused. By the impugned judgment and order the High Court has discharged the accused Nos 1 to 5 except 2 who died during the pendency of proceedings, interalia on the ground that the sanction to prosecute those accused was vitiated and was invalid sanction due to non-application of mind on the part of the review authority, in as much as some material was not before the authority and no reason was assigned while granting the sanction. Accused No. 6 has been discharged on the ground that at the time of the cognizance and framing charge there was no sanction. A number of submissions have been raised. It is required to be noted that even according to the accused No. 6, the appeals were argued on merits. The High Court has not entered into merit and has not considered the order of conviction. Even otherwise, it cannot be disputed that the high court has not gone into the merits of the case or the findings of the trial court".

"Having heard the learned Counsel and having gone through the material on record the following important questions of law and fact arise:-

1. Considering Section 465 CrPC, after the conclusion of the trial when the accused is convicted on merit whether the appellate court is justified in discharging the accused on the ground of irregular sanction?

2. In a case where the learned trial court has convicted the accused on merit on appreciation of evidence and thereafter having found the accused guilty of the offence for which they were tried, whether the appellant court is justified in discharging the accused on the ground of sanction, when the objection about sanction was not raised during the trial and the trial is permitted to proceed further and thereafter the trial court has convicted the accused on evidence, what will be the consequence of not raising the question of sanction despite opportunity at the stage of 313 CrPC.

On the question of suspension of sentence, the Court held that the accused were convicted after a detailed appreciation of evidence and that the offences are very serious. "If State succeeds on merits, offences are very serious and against the interest of the society, sovereignty and integrity of India", the Court said in the order", the Court ordered.

Solicitor General Tushar appearing for the appellant- Maharashtra Government submitted that the impugned order acquitted the accused only on one ground, not on merit. "The case of accused 1 to 5 was that the sanction was not proper and accused 6 (Saibaba) did not raise the objection during the trial but only at the appellate stage", he said.

The mere irregularity in sanction is not a ground for acquittal, Tushar Meha submitted relying on Section 465 of CrPC. He said that the purpose of sanction is to avoid vexatious trial and that in the present case there is no vexatious trial since the accused were convicted after trial.

"I am not going into facts, facts are very very disturbing. Supporting the use of arms in Kashmir, supporting overthrowing parliament, attacking security forces etc.", Mehta submitted.

Mehta said that accused 6 (Saibaba) did not raise this point during the trial. The trial court considers the argument, even though it was not raised by the accused and holds that it has not occasioned any failure of justice, Mehta submitted.

Mehta relied upon a judgment of the Supreme Court in Lal Singh vs State Of Gujarat And Anr. (1998) to argue that the issue of a defect in sanction cannot be raised at the appellate stage.

So far as accused 6 is concerned, by the time sanction was granted the IO had been examined and once it was granted he was recalled. The accused did not object to it, this is recorded by the trial court and High Court did not consider it, Mehta submitted.

"1 to 5 are the foot soldiers and 6 is the mastermind", Mehta submitted.

"This is not an order of acquittal but an order of discharge. If it was an acquittal, the parameters for stay would have been different", Mehta submitted.

Senior Advocate R. Basant appearing for Saibaba submitted that it is accepted now that as far as A6 is concerned there was no sanction at the time of cognizance or at the time of framing charge.

"We are asking if there was any specific objection that was raised by you during the trial that there was no valid sanction", Justice Shah asked and observed that in Section 313 CrPC statement when the aspect of sanction was put to you, you did not object. The Senior Counsel agreed.

"In the absence of any objection regarding sanction what will be the impact on judgment on merits, this is a question to be considered", Justice Shah said.

Basant submitted that leave can be granted in the appeal. "Please do not suspend the sentence", he said. "You can make your submission on that", Justice Shah said.

"I will execute a bond under Section 437A of CrPC and will be available before your lordship. There is no need to suspend the sentence", Basant submitted.

"We made many arguments, the Court only considered this point", Basant argued.

"Can the benefit of a mistake of the Court be granted to the accused?", the Court asked.

Basant responded by saying that his client had already made all the arguments before the High Court. "We are not finding fault with you, we are finding fault with the High Court. The High Court took a shortcut instead of considering the case on merit as required", Justice Shah responded.

Basant then made submissions about the health and advanced age of Saibaba and that he has no criminal antecedents. "There is nothing to show that he was actually involved, even the SG said that he was the brain", Basant said.

"So far as terrorist or Maoist activities are concerned, brain plays an important role. Brain is more dangerous", Justice Shah responded.

Basant also relied upon the order of bail that was granted earlier by the Apex Court to Saibaba. "It is a case of life and health for him", Basant submitted.

"You are not acquitted on merit, you are discharged", Justice Shah observed in response to the submission of Basant that he has a strong case on merit.

Tushar Mehta then rejoined stating that at the stage of bail, the Court was satisfied with the health condition of Saibaba.

The Bench commenced the hearing at 11 am. Yesterday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an urgent mentioning of the matter before a Bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud for urgent listing and stay of the order of the High Court. The mentioning was done before that Bench since the Bench of the Chief Justice has risen by then. The Bench refused the oral plea for the stay but allowed urgent listing.

The Bombay High Court (Nagpur Bench) yesterday acquitted Saibaba and five others in a UAPA case over the alleged Maoist link. The High Court directed immediate release on the ground that the trial was held without valid sanction in accordance with Section 45 of the UAPA.

The Division Bench of Justice Rohit B. Deo and Justice Anil L. Pansare had in the judgment criticised the Sessions judge who had convicted Saibaba and others for the remark in the judgment that Saibaba is mentally fit and is a think tank of the banned organisation which by its violent activities has brought the industrial and other development in the naxal affected areas to grinding halt. The Sessions judge had also observed that that imprisonment for life is not a sufficient punishment to accused 6- G.N. Saibaba and the hands of the Court are tied in view of the fact that the imprisonment for life is the maximum punishment statutorily provided.

"We do not approve of the unwarranted observations of the learned Sessions Judge, which may have the unintended consequence of rendering the verdict vulnerable to the charge of lack of dispassionate objectivity", the High Court observed.