Bail Is Rule’ Norm Can’t Be Chanted Like A Mantra In UAPA Offences : Karnataka HC Refuses Bail To 2020 Bengaluru Riots Accused


While displaying the highest degree of total zero tolerance towards those who were accused of riots, the Karnataka High Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Imran Ahmed vs National Investigating Agency in CRL.A. No. 124/2023 and cited in 2023 LiveLaw (Kar) 215 that was pronounced as recently as on May 29, 2023 has refused bail to an accused charged in the 2020 Bengaluru riots citing primacy of public safety and collective interest of the society over individual liberty as constitutionally guaranteed under the Constitution. Who can deny or dispute what the Karnataka High Court has held in this leading case so clearly, cogently and convincingly? We thus see that the Bench of Karnataka High Court thus dismissed the appeal that was filed by accused Imran Ahmed, challenging the successive order that was passed by the Special Court in November last year.
At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Krishna S Dixit for a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court comprising of himself and Hon’ble Mr Justice Pradeep Singh Yerur sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 1 that, “This appeal by the accused seeks to lay a challenge to the order dated 19.11.2022 (Annexure-A) rendered by the learned XIX Addl. City Civil & Session Judge (Special Court for NIA cases) at Bangalore, whereby his regular bail petition filed u/s 439 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereafter 1973 Code) in Spl.C.C.No.141/2021, has been negatived, for the second time.”
As it turned out, the Division Bench then discloses in para 2 that, “After service of notice, the respondent-National Investigating Agency (hereafter NIA) has entered appearance through its Senior Special Public Prosecutor, who vociferously opposed the appeal making submission in justification of the impugned order and the reasons on which it has been constructed.”
To put things in perspective, the Division Bench envisages in para 3 while dwelling briefly on the facts of the case mentioning that,
(i) On the eventful night of 11.08.2020, riots broke out in the D.G. Halli area of Bangalore City; the miscreants had attacked the local police station and had set it on fire; there was extensive damage to the private & public property; the government & private vehicles were ransacked; members of the public were terrorized; police officials who could have run for saving their lives & limbs, held the ground despite being attacked with stones, iron rods, wooden sticks, ‘improvised petrol bombs’ and such other weapons. Ultimately, the police had to resort to lathi charge, and firing too to dispel the organized offenders. The incident with enormous infamy, came to be known as ‘K.G.Halli Riots’.
(ii) Several criminal cases came to be registered against the miscreants huge in number, for the offences punishable under sections 143, 147, 148, 353, 332, 333, 436, 427 & 149 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and under section 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 (hereafter ‘1984 Act’). Of these cases, Crime Nos.227 of 2020, 228 of 2020 & 229 of 2020 are prominent. On 17.8.2020, after obtaining approval of the competent authority and permission from the learned XI ACMM, Mayo Halli, Bangalore City, other charging provisions namely sections 15, 16, 18 & 20 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (hereafter ‘1967 Act’) were added in Crime No.229 of 2020. As many as 181 persons were accused and of them, 141 including a juvenile came to be arrested; 12 were cited as absconding and one had died during police firing.
(iii) Regard being had to the enormity of violence, the gruesome way things were accomplished by the organized offenders and extensive damage caused to the private & public property, the Central Government through its Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, vide order dated 21.9.2020, issued under section 6(4) read with section 8 of National Investigating Agency Act, 2008, directed the respondent-NIA to take up the investigation of the case in Crime No.229 of 2020. Accordingly, the NIA re-registered the said crime as R.C.No.35/2020/NIA/DLI on 21.9.2020. The re-registered FIR was submitted to the NIA Special Court on 22.9.2020. The case was endorsed to NIA Branch Office, Hyderabad. The State Police/CCB handed over the records to the NIA on 23.9.2020. The NIA having investigated into the offences, has filed the charge sheet which inter alia stated about the involvement and role of the appellant herein as accused No.22 in the incident; he was part of the terrorist gang, which had a common intention & object, in perpetrating the offences alleged. The greater details of the incident avail in the charge sheet and gist of that has been furnished in the NIA Statement of Objections filed resisting the bail petitions.
(iv) Appellant’s earlier bail petition in Spl.C.C.No.141/2021 came to be rejected by the learned Spl. Judge of the Court below vide order dated 19.11.2022 and the same came to be affirmed in his earlier appeal in Crl.A.No.585/2021 a/w Crl.A.Nos.576/2021, 582/2021 & 745/2021 by a Coordinate Bench of this Court on 15.9.2021. Again, one more bail petition was presented in Spl.C.C.No.152/2021 and that too having been negatived, he, in this appeal, is grieving against the same. Learned SPP has filed his Statement of Objections and resisted the appeal by making submission in justification of the impugned order. Both the sides have relied upon certain decisions in support of their respective versions.”
Briefly stated, the Division Bench while declining to grant indulgence in the matter minces just no words to hold in para 5 that, “(a) The D.G.Halli riots which gave a sort of infamy to the garden city of Bangalore were perpetrated in a gruesome way on the night of 11th of August 2020; not only private & public property were extensively damaged, but the Police Station itself was set ablaze and Police Personnel on duty were brutally attacked; this attack was not by fists but by dangerous weapons including ‘improvised petrol bombs’; added, such attack was not by a few hooligans but it was by a huge gang who had gathered at the spot very swiftly and accomplished the acts of ‘dastardly terrorism’ what was commonly intended; the swiftness of gathering, the hugeness of its size (500- 600), the enormity of the terror generated, the shortness of the duration of perpetration and the hugeness of loss to property make out a prima facie case for repelling the contention of the accused that all that had happened was at the spur of moment and as a reaction to a condemnable facebook post; the post was condemnable, cannot be disputed in the least.
(b) It is not a case of grave and sudden provocation; everything was meticulously preplanned and accordingly, was executed, to say the least. The fact that despite police warning through loudspeakers, the perpetrators did not dispel till after the police were perforced to resort to firing left with no other alternative, which eventually resulted into loss of a life. The NIA being a special investigating agency having investigated the matter has collected wealth of evidentiary material and filed the charge sheet on 5.2.2021, for the offences punishable under sections 143, 147, 148, 353, 333, 332, 436, 427, 34 read with section 149 of IPC, sections 15, 16, 18 & 20 of 1967 Act and section 4 of the 1984 Act; a bare perusal of these sections repels the contention that the offences are not grave; the way offences have been perpetrated cannot be expressed without prefixing the superlatives to these ‘gruesome and heinous’ organized acts.”
Most significantly, the Division Bench in this same para 5 then further very rightly propounded that, “The Apex Court speaking through Justice Krishya Iyer in GUDIKANTI NARASIMHALU vs. PUBLIC PROSECUTOR, AIR 1978 SC 429 evolved a lenient norm of Bail Jurisprudence ‘Bail is a rule & jail is an exception’; that was decades ago and in a case that involved offences punishable under the provisions of Macaulay’s Code i.e., IPC, 1860; terrorism & terrorists, were the subject matter with which the novels were composed. Much water has flowed under the bridges and we are living in different times; every daily newspaper will have some report or photograph about the terrorist acts. Legislative changes have been brought about to several penal statutes. Liberty of an individual as constitutionally guaranteed is important; however, what is even more important is, the safety of civil society. It hardly needs to be reiterated that the interest of an individual cannot march over the collective interest of the society. The writings of the jurists since centuries say this and Apex Court rulings in this regard galore in the law reports.”
Equally significant is what is then stated ahead in this same para 5 that, “Almost all the norms in a legal system, be it civil or criminal, are relative; they are bound to the Society’s Calendar. With ceaseless run of Time, these norms undergo change in their texture & colour for retaining their relevance as a living law of the people. “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world…” poetically said Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) in ‘The Passing of Arthur’. Norms of the kind cannot be chanted like mantra or slogans, in every bail petition out of the contextual circumstance. Etymology of a norm is ever the arbiter of its worth. The norms which govern behaviour of individuals ordinarily cannot transcend the social conditions that obtained when they were evolved. Added, their efficacy level and invocability potential do not remain constant; variable, they are. All this cannot be lost sight of by the courts. Otherwise, invoking such principles to the sole benefit of an accused detenue, involved in heinous offences, may result into a huge ‘law & order’ issue, and also cause a massive detriment to the societal interest.”
Most rationally and most remarkably, the Division Bench then holds in this same para 5 further that, “We have very carefully considered every aspect of the matter, keeping in mind the sanctity of human rights as recognized by the Apex Court in the light of constitutional guarantees; we are conscious to the possible societal implications should accused of the kind be enlarged from confinement. We are of the considered view that cause of justice would be served more by continuing him in confinement than setting him free. This being said, we hasten to add that the subject case needs to be expeditiously tried since there are several accused persons, who have suffered rejection of their bail petitions and as a consequence, are continuing in judicial custody. They have a Fundamental Right to speedy justice, cannot be lost sight of. In our view, this is a fit case for speedy trial, if possible, on day to day basis. We are also aware of the burden that the learned trial Judge of Special Court shoulders. In the above circumstances, this Criminal Appeal being devoid of merits, is liable to be dismissed and accordingly, it is.”
For sake of clarity, the Division Bench also makes clear in this same para 5 that, “The observations hereinabove made being confined to the disposal of appeal, shall not cast their shadow on the ongoing trial of the offences and the orders to be made by the court below, therein.”
In essence, it is thus quite discernible that the Karnataka High Court has made it indubitably clear that the “bail is rule” norm is not strictly applicable in UAPA offences. We thus see that the Karnataka High Court very rightly denies bail to the riot accused in the 2020 Bengaluru riots for reasons as discussed aforesaid. No denying or disputing it!